Confession – Season 4 Episode 2

See Content Warnings
General horror, alcohol, language, act of threatened violence against a child, gun violence, police not serving time for murder, cancer, death
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Jeremy finally gets a meeting with Ron after everything that’s happened. Ron reveals why he works for Hydra – he would lose any contact with his kids after the death of his lover (and after he killed an unarmed thief during a hallucination which resulted in his firing from the police) if he didn’t. His two children are Benjamin and Brianne Scanlon. Brianne only found out at Ben’s funeral. Ron is using the papers as leverage to try to keep Hydra in check and protect himself and those he cares about.

Everyone has their own set of buttons that can be pushed, and everyone has a breaking point.  It’s one thing to experience just one tiny, little thing that bothers you.  It’s easy to ignore, to simply look the other way.  I’m conflicted in the lessons I grew up with in church, with the whole “what would Jesus do” mentality of just “turning the other cheek” when compared to the idea that my counselor told me, which is probably the most valuable thing I’ve learned since I have been seeing the prick.  That is, “whatever harmful behavior you’re willing to endure without making the person aware whose harmful behavior is hurting you… without drawing a line in the sand establishing your boundaries and how you expect to be treated… not only further damages you in the long run, but in essence, teaches that person how to treat you, and what you’re willing to endure.”

It’s funny, I used to think that my boiling point, taking so long to reach, was an admirable quality.  Now, I’m not so sure.  But I suppose that’s something to continue working on with my counselor.  These days I don’t have the luxury of waiting for polite interactions to take place. But yeah, I’m seeing a therapist on a more frequent basis these days because of…well…some health concerns.  As usual, the wife was right about my habit of bottling things up and after receiving the news…erm…

Speaking of which, I’ve been journaling my own thoughts about that to review in my counseling sessions, and intentionally leaving the parts about my frustration and anger out of this podcast for fear of… well, some of it’s private, and some I’m just not that ready to be publicly vulnerable yet.  But mostly because I’m afraid of being wrong.  I’m glad that I’ve done so because what I’m about to share with you confirmed that I was wrong about a few things.  

I can’t be certain if I finally experienced the one straw that broke the camel’s back, or if it was a brick, but either way, I finally felt it was time to call out Ron.  A seed was planted last season when 4thTrumpet told me Ron was actually working for Hydra.  Ever since then, I’ve been suspicious of his activities, and have probably been over-analytical.  More recently, I suppose it was the dreams that caused me to push further.  Or it might have been Ben’s funeral.  Yeah, I just can’t put my finger on it, but for a man who has shown zero emotion in most of the interactions I’ve had with him, he seemed to take Ben’s death pretty hard.  You’d think that would be to his credit, but in my mind, he owed me a debt: that debt being an explanation… for everything. Why has he collected The Storage Papers to begin with, why do I have in my possession a document confirming he’s working for Hydra, why I was used as bait in the church, and what the hell is the long game here?  

My patience is wearing thin and I think I just came to a point where I didn’t want to proceed with anything related to the papers.  Especially now that I’m in therapy over them, and it’s causing tension in my marriage and in my relationship with my kids, even if indirectly.  There’s only so much I’m willing to sacrifice without a solid foundation of purpose.  For these reasons, I got in touch with Anderson and told him I needed to speak with Ron directly, as soon as possible, or I was done. 

Of course, Anderson tried to tell me I was being irrational, so I shared with him a slightly less-detailed version of what I just told you, only with a bit more hostility.  I don’t think he initially thought I was serious.  A few hours later, I got a phone call from Ron, who asked me to meet him at a bar near Old Town San Diego at seven fifteen PM that night.

I got there early of course.  I’m always early.  I grew up with the expectation that I was actually considered late if I wasn’t fifteen minutes early to any appointment.  So, by my arrival at seven oh two, I’m confident my parents would have been disappointed.  Either way, I had enough time to get a couple of whiskeys burning their way down my throat, heating up my entire body and making me just a little loose before Ron arrived.  When we got there, he suggested we get a booth away from people, and toward the back of the bar where it was dark and seedy.  

The first thing out of his mouth was unexpected.  He said, “What’s so important to you that is worth risking my friendship and long-term trust I have with Mark?”  Had Anderson been on my side in all of this?  I mean, why would Ron say this unless Anderson had pushed him to have this meeting?  Perhaps…

Now I’m curious.  

I basically just came out and told him how I felt.  That I was being used, uninformed, disrespected a bit, and extremely disappointed at the lack of information flowing my way.  He didn’t budge.  Instead, he just looked at his beer stein as I paused for some kind of reaction from him.  After an uncomfortably long period of silence, I continued.  I asked why he lingered so long at Ben’s funeral, telling him that I’d given Brianne a ride, and waited in the car for over an hour for her while they were the only two who remained after the service.  I understood Brianne’s motivation.  I mean it was her brother for Christ’s sake, but why did he stay even after she left.  I asked what attachment he had with Ben.  Still staring at his beer, his right index finger began to trace the rim of the stein.  I looked back at him, and his eyes seemed to be watering up, but he didn’t crack.

“Nothing, huh?” I said in that parental disappointed tone I’d learned to use.  He didn’t even look at me.  I asked him if there was even an ounce of him that thought I deserved an explanation for a few things, to anything.  Nothing. 

I even got to the point where I asked, “Why should I continue this pointless pursuit of the podcast?”

At this point, he made eye contact with me.  He didn’t look angry, but more like he was trying to discern whether or not I was bluffing.  The podcast obviously meant something to him, or had value.  

After more silence, I picked up my whiskey, which was about half full, and slung it to the back of my throat before reaching into my pocket and extracting a folded up sheet of paper.  I placed it down next to his beer stein.  Ron looked at it, and our eyes met again.

“The fuck is this?” he said.

I just glared at him.  I was literally ready to walk away from it all without some answers.  He picked up the paper and unfolded it.  I could tell he recognized it immediately as the nondisclosure agreement he signed when he hired on with Hydra.  

Finally, some life was expelled from him.  In an obviously agitated, but whispered voice, he said, “Who the fuck gave you this?”

The shoe was on the other foot now.  I picked up my empty glass, intentionally ignoring his question, and held it between my eyes and the light above our booth, pretending I was unaware of his question.  He became more insistent.  “You don’t plan to go public with this, do you?”

He obviously wasn’t listening to the podcast.  I looked him in the eye and said quite calmly, “I already have.” 

At that moment, I couldn’t really explain how, but I could sense everything he was feeling.  It was one of those moments where I previously described losing myself within thought, but I could sense everything, and I could hear in his voice (though he wasn’t speaking) a series of thoughts with his emotions.  It was like a flash, like I was going to black out.  Anger mixed with “that cheeky mother…” then fear mixed with questions like, “Do they know?  Do I need to go dark?” and finally remorse and the thought, “I need to tell him.”

I felt dizzy and closed my eyes, assuming it was the whiskey doing it’s thing.  I reopened them and said, “Yes, you do need to tell me.”  

His eyes opened widely and he leaned back in his seat, almost as if I offended him.  Then he shook his head from side to side, and went back to staring at his beer.  I felt let down.  At that point, I stood up, threw a twenty dollar bill on the table and said, “Nice knowing you,” and turned to walk away.  

That’s when he grabbed my forearm and said, “Okay, I’ll tell you what you want to know.”  

I said, “Well first you can let go of my arm,” which he did.

Then I said, “If you aren’t going to tell me everything, let me know right now.”

He nodded and I sat back down.  He called the waitress over and ordered us both a whiskey… apparently he was drinking what I was drinking now. “Where should I start?” he asked.  

I replied, “How about the beginning?”  

Our drinks arrived rather quickly and he spent the next hour and three more whiskeys filling me in on the details.  He served four years in the Army as military police and began working at the San Diego Sheriff’s department in nineteen eighty.  He made Homicide Detective within two years, being the fastest promotion of the type to this day.  His partner retired in eighty-six, and that’s when a new, promising young detective named Mark Anderson was assigned to work with him.  Ron mentored him and taught him everything he knew.  

I asked him about why he left the Sheriff’s department, and he initially told me it was complicated.  I didn’t press him just yet, so I asked him about the Storage Papers and why he started the collection of documents.  He kept things very shallow for a while.  He just said that after he was no longer in the position of Detective, and after a few months of feeling sorry for himself, he began his P.I. business where he learned that there were a lot of people who had similar experiences as him.  Experiences of things unexplained.  Experiences that are related to Hydra.  Sadness began to come through his facial expressions like a napkin soaking up condensation.  I don’t think he could hide much any longer.

He began diving deeper, but in what seemed like a very different direction.  He said, “I didn’t know Brianne got a ride with you to the funeral.”

He proceeded, telling me that he was in love once.  He told me he never actually married Kelly, but that they had two children out of wedlock about one year apart from one another.  The youngest was premature, and experienced a slew of medical problems right from the start.  While he and Kelly had managed to get through several rough months with a preemie needing constant care, it wasn’t long after the baby started showing some progress and being released home that the news was delivered.

You see, Kelly thought that the stress and the sleepless nights of worrying about their newborn were causing her severe migraines, which is probably why the real problem was being overlooked.  She had developed a rare type of brain tumor.  This was all while he was working for the Sheriff’s department of course.  For about six months, Ron took a leave from his job to help with their preemie and to ultimately be there for Kelly.

“Things were looking grim,” he said.  “Kelly had slipped into a coma until I had nearly all but given up hope, and I was introduced by Kelly’s doctor to a pharmaceutical rep.”

Ron explained that this pharmaceutical company had been doing some research into what they called “gene therapy” at the time.  Keep in mind that this was in the eighties and gene therapy wasn’t even being thought of by mainstream scientists and researchers at the time, let alone being treated with medications and other procedures.  He explained that the treatment would be completely experimental, and would require transfer to their own private facility to ensure the treatments had the highest chance of success.  Their oncologist confirmed that there were literally no other options that could be considered from the hospital’s point of view.  

Ron expressed his concerns about the cost not being covered by insurance, and for being responsible for two very young children while all of this was potentially going to be happening.  He said he was lured into an agreement after being promised the world.  He said they told him their private facility had childcare, and that the treatment would be of no cost to them, as it was considered research, being funded by federal dollars through a government contract.  So, being unable to consult with Kelly and she had no living relatives to help make the decision, Ron begrudgingly decided to proceed with the treatment.  

Ron explained Kelly spent months in the facility, and eventually, I had to slowly begin returning back to work or risk losing my job, and any medical benefits that covered the kids while I was employed.  Knowing he didn’t quite feel ready to return, he spoke with one of the overseers of the facility who had been treating Kelly.  They prescribed him an experimental sedative that would supposedly calm him down, but allow him to function in his daily tasks.  It was supposed to get him in working shape, mentally.  But the drug had some side effects for him.  Occasionally, it caused minor hallucinations.  These were discussed with the medical team, and his dosage would be altered.

He had only been back to work for a few weeks when an incident occurred.  He was actually off-duty, in plain clothes after leaving his shift.  He stopped at a corner gas station to fill up his tank before heading over to the research facility to spend some time with his kids and with Kelly, who was still in a coma.  He’d walked into the store while the pump was feeding gas into his car, and was looking for anything he could find over the counter to fight a headache that had been culminating behind his eyes for several hours.  He went to the register, paid, and began walking out the door when he heard someone behind him yell, “give me the cash!”  

He turned around to find a caucasian male in his early twenties with his arm raised toward the cashier.  His hand was covered by a brown paper bag.  They man didn’t see Ron until his grocery bag hit the ground, and after Ron’s weapon was trained on him.

Ron yelled out, “Sheriff’s department, drop the weapon!”

And just then, Ron had one of the hallucinations he said he was experiencing.  He described in detail the man’s face, which initially looked dirty, but young, frightened, and somewhat innocent.  He remembered thinking the young man probably didn’t have much experience with armed robbery, so Ron felt confident that he had the situation under control, if only for a few seconds.  It was then that everything changed for him.

As Ron was about to negotiate with the man to drop his weapon, he said the man’s face began changing.  It started twisting and morphing into this sort of disfigured blob, undulating in waves of skin, hair, and teeth.  At the same time it began changing colors, from flesh tone to a greenish-dark gray, the man’s head began shaking violently from side to side, front to back, so quickly that it was blurry, as if he didn’t even have a head.  In the meantime, the man’s body remained completely still.  

Ron glanced at the cashier, a middle-aged Asian woman, who appeared frozen in time.  When he looked back at the man, he was… something else.  His face had changed from a boyish appearance to something demonic.  Large, yellow eyes with vertical slits for pupils glared back at Ron.  The creature’s breathing was ragged.  Ron watched as the eyes turned to look at the paper bag still enveloping its hand, then looked back at Ron and revealed a mischievous grin.  Rows of razor-sharp teeth were exposed in joyful satisfaction that the creature knew something Ron didn’t.

It looked at the bag around it’s hand again, then slightly lowered its arm toward the floor.  The bag slid off of its hand and fell to the ground, revealing that the creature hadn’t been holding a gun underneath the bag.  Instead, its grip was firm around a baby’s neck, with its face turning purple as the creature brought it closer to its face.  The yellow eyes pierced Ron, and the baby it was holding was intentionally turned toward him and held there for a moment, as if on some kind of sick display.  It took him a moment, but as the baby’s head began turning a darker shade of purple, he recognized it as his own daughter, the preemie who he thought was in the care of the research facility treating Kelly. As soon as Ron recognized the baby, it’s as if the creature knew.  It seemed almost amused as it grinned even wider.  

Ron yelled, “Put it down carefully!”

Instead, its head slowly turned toward the baby and it began opening its wide jaws, bringing the baby’s head beyond the boundary of its outer row of teeth.  A shot rang out, and Ron’s ears began to ring.

It all happened so fast.  As the ringing subsided, Ron looked over at the cashier, who was screaming in fear… not in fear of the monster Ron had just killed, but in fear of Ron.  He looked around to find two other customers backing away from him, and he was confused for a moment.  Then he looked at the floor where the creature stood.  Before him, lying immobile on the ground, was that early twenties caucasian male with a bullet hole in his forehead; just above his left eyebrow.  A pool of blood and brain matter lay behind him, and also splattering the magazine rack and checkout counter near him.  Next to an empty brown paper bag on the floor was the young man’s hand holding a banana.  

The police arrived within a couple of minutes to find Ron outside with his gun on the ground next to him, and his arms up, with his detective badge in one hand on display.  He spent several hours being questioned that evening, and ultimately was released under suspension from work until a further investigation could be conducted.  He knew he couldn’t tell the truth about his perception of the event, but he also said that he didn’t see a banana prior to pulling the trigger.  

The police released a statement with a generic, “There will be a full investigation with all of the witness statements taken into account,” kind of message, while Anderson was tasked with collecting Ron’s badge and gun prior to his release.  By the time Ron was sent home, it was well into the early morning hours, so he skipped going to the research facility that night.

Ron awoke to a phone call around eleven AM the next morning.  It was the research facility.  They called to inform Ron that Kelly had passed away overnight.  Ron was tearing up quite a bit when telling me this.  He obviously loved her.  He pulled out his wallet, and retrieved a small photo to show to me.  In the photo was a very young, much slimmer picture of him with a very pretty woman sitting next to him on a log outdoors somewhere possibly local.  Aside from Ron having more hair and less weight, he looked completely happy.  Kelly had light brown hair and some hefty eighties bangs.  I turned the photo over to see if anything was written on the back, and to my astonishment, the small amount of information there bore heavy weight.  Written in pencil that looked to have been smudged over the years, it was written, “Ron Hammond and Kelly Scanlon, nineteen eighty-six.”

I was shocked.  Ron was the biological father of Benjamin and Brianne Scanlon.  I had a seemingly endless fountain of questions that started flowing, but Ron insisted I allow him to continue, so I let him speak.

He said he wanted to see Kelly’s body before they took her away, and arranged to be at the research facility within the hour.  Waiting for him at the entrance when he arrived was Mark Anderson, along with four other Sheriff’s deputies.  Ron seemed somewhat confused at first, wondering if Anderson had also been informed of Kelly’s passing, but that wasn’t the case.  Instead, he was again given a difficult task.  Anderson explained that according to the witness statements from the gas station, the banana was fully revealed for quite a long time prior to Ron firing his weapon the previous day.  He was tasked with bringing Ron in.

Ron, a bit numb from all of the events that transpired over the previous twenty-four hours, explained the situation about Kelly’s passing and requested to see her before he went with Anderson.  He said Anderson was kind, and he did his job.  He allowed Ron to see her, but insisted that he accompany him along the way.  He kept a respectful distance while I grieved, and personally drove me into the station in the front seat, and without handcuffs, despite department policy.  

There was a hearing, and Ron was ultimately found guilty and was terminated from the Sheriff’s department.  In light of his impeccable service record in the United States Army and the Sheriff’s department, he didn’t have to serve any jail time.  He was away from Ben and Brianne for about sixty days though, and he had asked Anderson to act on his behalf to coordinate care for them while he was gone, which the research facility was pleased to provide.

Finally, the first chance he got, Ron drove to the facility to collect his children, but that’s where things went even more sideways.  Normally, he would check in with the front desk personnel, and a security guard would escort him through a series of locked doors to the childcare area.  That day, instead of bringing Ron directly there, he’s led to an office that happened to also look like an interrogation room minus the two way mirror.  

He sat for about forty-five minutes before a man greeted him.  He was tall, in his fifties with a dark gray suit and a yellow tie.  He carried a briefcase which he placed on the table as he sat down.  Ron didn’t go into much detail about the specifics of the conversation, except that the man kept referring to the situation as a “unique little predicament.”  Ultimately, he was sent there to negotiate.  They wanted to keep Ben and Brianne.  This infuriated Ron, but the man calmly presented the current scenario with some options.  He pointed out that Ron was now a convicted felon with no job or medical insurance.  The man produced a file from his briefcase that looked like a foreign language to Ron, but he was told that the children possessed some unique genetic markers, similar to their mother, that if not studied thoroughly could potentially cause the same demise for both of them (if no cure is found, of course).  

He assured Ron that the children would have a top-notch education and access to special programs, which Ron admittedly regrets not obtaining more details about.  It didn’t matter to Ron.  He was adamantly refusing all of it until the guy changed his demeanor.  Ultimately, he provided Ron with a choice.  Knowing that they had full custody of the children for over two months, all it would take is a simple phone call to child protective services to have the State take custody, pointing out that Ron would have a very low probability given his recent circumstances… or, he presented another option.  They offered him a job.  Apparently they had dug into Ron’s background and found some qualities they were looking for in his service and employment records.  They said Ron could work for them in exchange for regular updates on them to observe them being taken care of without informing them that he’s their father… or he could refuse and never see them again.

The man retrieved another document from his briefcase.  It was nearly a hundred pages, and one of the first few that he thumbed through was this nondisclosure agreement that I presented a copy of to him today – an unredacted version of course.  I suddenly felt like an asshole.  Ron said they allowed him to visit his kids for as long as he wanted that day while he thought it over.  He considered going after them legally, but with no job, no money, and a felony conviction over his head, he knew it was pointless.  He agreed to the job, feeling somewhat defeated, but still somewhat thankful he could at least have the knowledge that his kids are okay.  

He explained that the primary purpose of his job was to disseminate information, to create counterintelligence and disinformation when necessary.  “Regarding what?” I asked.

He just said, “About anything they asked me to.”

He looked at me in a very serious way and said, “The Storage Papers contain the truth.  If something strange is occurring in San Diego, then there’s a very high probability, almost certainty, that it originated with Project Hydra.  I’ve covered up these stories under the guise of a private P. I. firm for years now, intentionally creating a different narrative for the public to see compared to what has actually happened.  I’m good at my job… I use a service-oriented approach to gain the trust of the client, document all the details, and report out to Hydra.  They tell me what data to get rid of and what to report back to the client and/or what information goes public.  Only, I have them by the balls with all of the information currently in your possession.  So keep the papers under lock and key, okay?  I’ve always felt wrong about it, but that’s why I’ve archived everything in hopes that someday, I’d be able to keep the facts alive, despite what happened to the experiencers.  I’ve led people astray in my involvement with these cases, and served to report information to Hydra, while covering up any evidence that could implicate them.  I’ve been nothing more than a henchman,” he said.

He continued, “I’ve always held out hope that I could obtain even a small amount of redemption but I’ve never quite had a vessel.  Now that my kids are grown, Hydra continues to try to blackmail me into working for them.  They find new pressure points of mine to keep me in line.  I suppose I’m only comfortable telling you all this now because they’ve always used my children as a bargaining chip against me… and now that I’ve lost one of them, it’s time for some things to come out into the light.”  

I confirmed that I had his permission to share this information on the podcast.  He continued further, “Just so we’re clear, I do see your podcast as a very important piece of my redemptive process.  Without it, I fear this old man wouldn’t know how to spread the word about any of it, or at least not without significant risk.  The beauty of it is you’re not really at risk either.  You see, I was following you in the beginning, trying to collect information about you and I wasn’t sure whether to report you to Hydra for fear of being exposed or pursue you as an ally.  I still wasn’t 100% certain either way until I lost Ben.” 

Looking back now, I sensed some deception in this statement, but I was so enamoured with this news that I ignored that instinct at the time.  

I had to interrupt him with a couple of questions. “Okay, first of all, does Brianne know you’re her father?  And second, what kind of risk is there for you and myself at this point?”

He explained that the hour-long conversation after the funeral was spent informing Brianne of what has happened.  She’s now aware, and is currently under very little perceived risk from Hydra.  If anything, there’s potential risk only if certain circumstances were to come about, which he didn’t go into.  And he said he felt confident that by going public with this information, my safety was probably better off than if I continued sharing the documents without divulging our conversation.  This was due to the mere fact that if something ever happened to me, there would be a public record of motive that would incriminate Hydra.  If there was anything they were planning at all, they’d have to back off now.  

The real risk lies with Ron.  He said he’s at the point where he’s done playing their game.  He almost laughed about it, saying he still needed a job, so he was going to continue reporting to work there, which would be a true test to see if they’re actually listening to my podcast.  Pretty ballsy if you ask me…or stupid.  

He said he truly loved the cases he sees… the witness accounts and the things he’s personally seen that reassure him that death isn’t the end.  “They can do whatever they want to me now… I’m not afraid,” he said.  “With any luck, they’ll realize what a valuable resource I actually am to them, even with the ulterior motives I may have now to remain in their employ.”

I honestly think there’s more to Ron’s motives than he shared with me over those drinks, but ultimately, I’m satisfied that whatever they are, it’s probably not going to be bad for me… but I sure as hell believe he’s not going to let Hydra off the hook without contestation.

CONTENT WARNINGS: Acts of threatened violence against children and gun violence

Final Rest: Part 2 – Season 3 Episode 20

See Content Warnings
General horror, language, injury, gunshot, death
Need to skip this episode? Click here to see the plot.
Jeremy awakens inside a dream shared with Brianne and the Dream Killer: a long, circular hallway lined with windows on either side. The Dream Killer doesn’t notice him at first and is excited to see Brianne, but she doesn’t recognize him. She tells him she’s going to stop him.

Upon noticing Jeremy, he grabs Brianne, smashes a window, and pulls her through it. Jeremy gives chase and finds himself back in Hellhole Canyon, his sleeping body next to Brianne’s, when a car flies at him. Brianne redirects it at the last second. Brianne and the Dream Killer disappear and Jeremy notices a glitch in the dream world where they seemed to disappear at. He jumps into the glitch and is back in the hallway, just in time to see them leave again.

He dives through the window they just jumped through and finds himself in an abandoned medical facility. He can’t see them, but he hears Brianne and the Dream Killer talking. The Dream Killer reveals he was with Brianne and Benjamin when they were in the custody of Hydra, and they experimented on him but were unable to put him to sleep while they did so. The only time he gets any rest is when he steals it from the dreams of other psychics.

Jeremy bursts through a door and finds himself next to his wife who can’t see him, but is mourning over his tombstone. The Dream Killer implies this is what will happen to him. Brianne tells him it’s a lie, and Jeremy realizes he is actually still in the medical facility, next to several metal doors – Brianne and Benjamin’s childhood rooms. The Licker is at the other end of the hallway.

Jeremy notices the glitch again and runs towards the Licker, then suddenly finds himself tripping through the hallway and through another broken window, this time falling into a pitch void where the Dream Killer is expanding stars and galaxies from nothing. He injures Brianne and begins exploring Jeremy’s mind.

Jeremy calls for Brianne in his mind and they repel the Dream Killer. The Dream Killer begins to grow in retaliation, ready to wipe them out. Suddenly they are awake and a gunshot echoes. Ron killed the Dream Killer, and pocketed something as Jeremy and Brianne were running up. They take Brianne back and Ron leaves immediately, offering no answers to what happened and what is going on.

Everything was white – almost blindingly white – while a rainbow of alternating pale and neon colors swirled in my peripheral vision. I looked around until I spotted two figures in the distance. One was clearly Brianne. All I could make out of the other was his khaki suit. Although they were far away, I heard them as if they were speaking directly in my ear, rattling in my head. A deep, masculine voice was talking, but something seemed off as it spoke.

“You – you’re the sister! I found you! I can’t believe it!”

Several small pieces of white paper floated around me, each with some writing and a crimson smudge on it. I grabbed at one of them to find it was a card, colored with dried blood and containing the message “I’m saving you for last, Brianne.” The message took some focus to see and kept fading away the moment I stopped concentrating on it. I looked past the card at the two figures, still impossibly far away. Brianne’s voice seemed to ripple into me as I started running towards the two of them.

“I don’t know who you are, but you’re scaring me.”

My heart began to pound as I felt her fear in my veins. I started to hear things as I got closer, like I was slowly getting sucked into a vortex of nightmares. There were monsters here. I knew that. I could sense them just in my periphery; I just couldn’t see them. The colors just at the edge of my vision were phasing in and out with objects of substance: the red turned to bloodied intestines, the yellow became a steady stream of animalistic eyes, and the purple and green combined to form rotting, diseased flesh.

His voice grew louder, more powerful. “You don’t remember me? I thought… then why are you here?”

I could tell Brianne wanted to sound confident… but I could also tell the nightmare was getting to her. “I came to stop you.”

Like a switch, we were no longer in a blank space full of swirling colors and gore, and I was jolted to a stop as I reoriented myself in this new space as his once khaki suit morphed into darkness. We were now in a long, dim hallway. Broken, frosted glass littered the floor beneath empty light fixtures on the ceiling. Brianne and the man stood at the end of a long, curved hallway lined with dark glass windows. Wind whistled through a crack in one of the nearby windows.

“You think you can stop me?”

His voice boomed, reverberating through my body. I took a step forward, bits of broken bulbs crunching beneath my foot. His head snapped to face me, then turned back to Brianne. “Who did you invite?” he seethed.

Suddenly, the windows were no longer dark. They never had been. Each window presented a glimpse of a different place. Some looked normal, but others were… unlike anything I’d ever seen before, and like nothing I could even explain or describe. Without warning, he grabbed Brianne’s arm then ran and dove through the window behind her, the shattering glass echoing down the hall. I ran to catch up and follow them. Whatever was on the other side seemed to be getting sucked into this place. As I drew closer, I saw that it was sand. With the sand blasting my face and spreading down the hall, I couldn’t see anything before taking a leap of faith.

Wind howled around me as I fell through the sand, trying perfervidly and in vain to find something to grasp while simultaneously bracing myself. There was nothing, and sand pressed into me on all sides, immobilizing my limbs and squeezing my lungs. Without warning, I hit the ground backwards with a thud that knocked the wind out of me. I reached up to wipe the sand off my face as I regained my breath and looked around. We were back in Hellhole Canyon. Brianne was lying on the ground and I was next to her, but both of us were slightly out of focus. Groaning metal echoed in the distance and the sound of something large was fast approaching overhead. I looked up to see a dark shape blotting out the stars and quickly growing larger. I tried to jump out of the way, but I reacted far too late to make a difference. Instead, at the last second I heard Brianne grunt from behind and the car that was about to crush me flew to the side and crunched into a large boulder beside me.

I spun around in time to see the man yanking Brianne off a ledge. I climbed up as quickly as I could to try to follow them but, as I reached the edge myself, I found that it was about a twelve foot drop down to more rocks. Survivable if you were prepared and in good shape, but Brianne wasn’t even in shape to be walking right now. I didn’t see them anywhere though, and that’s when I noticed it. A bird flew past, disappeared for an instant before continuing where it left off, flying a few feet, then for a split second I could swear there were two birds before one disappeared and the other continued off again. It was like this one area was out of sync with the rest. I glanced back at my shimmering body, took a breath, and jumped off the edge, bracing myself for a rough impact.

Faster than I could register, I heard more sounds than I’ve heard in my life, an eternity of life swirling around me in an instant… then it all went quiet again as I found myself falling atop sand, now back inside the large, circular hallway. Just as I looked up, the man was shattering another window and diving through it, Brianne in tow. I stumbled to my feet and followed suit.

This time, instead of sand, I felt myself being overwhelmed by a sense of darkness. I’m not sure how else to explain it. The darkness was thick, palpable. I could feel it crawling over my skin, touching every part of me, and sucking me into it. I found myself struggling to breathe again. Then I was on a cold, dusty laminate floor. With much effort, I got up and looked around me, searching for any sign of Brianne or the man who was pulling her from dream to dream. It looked like I was in an abandoned lab or doctor’s office of some kind. On one side was a bench with microscopes and test tubes, and on the other side was a sink and a padded chair… with leather straps. Scattered across the floor between the two sides were old papers that were all blank save for a marking in the corner: a seven-digit hand with an eye in the middle of the palm. Whatever this place was, it wasn’t anywhere I wanted to be. I took a step forward and almost fell as something underfoot slid. I looked down to find a bloodied scalpel.

I reached down and picked it up. The blood was fresh. Looking back down at the ground, I saw a trail of blood leading to a set of double doors with an unlit and cobweb-laden exit sign over top. His voice suddenly filled my ears, startling me.

“Do you remember me now? It was here, so long ago, that we met. You and your brother got out. You were the lucky ones. Not me, though. I had to stay, to stay awake, to stay thinking, to stay watching and bleeding and cursing every second of my life while they cut me open and put in and took out whatever they wanted. The things they did to me, to my mind, to my body… and I still can’t sleep! The only rest I can get is in your head, in their head, while they sleep. The ones like me. Like us.”

I heard Brianne reply in horror, “You were awake… the whole time?”

I moved past the double doors and found myself in what appeared to be a hospital hallway, but with one key difference. Eyeballs in sizes ranging from baseballs to watermelons hung several feet, the thick, glistening optic nerves appearing to grow out of the ceiling itself. The eyes one by one turned to look at me. I fought past the shiver of fear rippling down my spine to look past them to the opposite wall. There was a sign: left to the cafeteria, right to the subject’s rooms. On a hunch, I turned right, crouching as I ran under the hanging eyes. 

“Every goddamned second. I felt every tear of their scalpel. I thought it would be worth it, that they would be able to fix me. But here we are! I still have to hunt for the next person I can use to finally get a single drop of sleep.”

“You’re killing them,” I shouted in no particular direction. “You’re killing her!”

The trail of blood was getting thicker. His voice whispered in my ear, “You’re just determined to be a pest, aren’t you? Let’s find out what happens when you keep poking.”

At the end of the hallway was a door with a large, reinforced window and just below that, a crash bar. The blood disappeared underneath it. I stood and broke into a full run, disregarding the eyeballs that squished against my skin, and burst through the door to find myself outside in an open field of rolling hills and dying grass. Sunlight was blotted out by gray clouds near the horizon, dulling the sunset.

I heard shuffling behind me and turned to see my wife standing there, gazing down numbly at a tombstone. It was mine. I suddenly felt very cold. I’d been so certain of what I needed to do in that moment – to find the killer, to save Brianne, to help Ron. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the cost.


It was Brianne’s voice, echoing to me from every valley.

“It’s not real. Don’t believe whatever lie he’s trying to tell you. You’re not where you think you are.”

I couldn’t respond to her to tell her that I knew, deep down, this was something he was showing me. But it felt so real. The pain of watching a tear roll down my wife’s cheek with no other semblance of emotion visible was destroying me.

“Look at the ground.”

It was Brianne again. With much effort, I tore my eyes away from my wife and looked down. It was just dead grass and dirt. I don’t know what she expected. After a moment, I noticed it was a little more than that, though. It almost seemed too… liquid. I reached down and scooped up a handful of dirt. It instantly poured – not crumbled – out of my hand. Beneath the dirt was laminate flooring. I carefully scooped up another bit of dirt – this time with two hands – then flung it beside me. It stopped in midair, as if it hit an invisible wall, then suddenly the wall was no longer invisible.

Blood oozed down a white cinder block wall where the dirt had just been. I looked down to find my hands dripping wet, crimson. Blood coated the floor and small splatters of it contrasted with my light gray running shoes. I was standing in another hallway, this one far shorter. Three metal doors lined both sides of the hall, each with its own small sliding grate at roughly face-level. It reminded me of doors to solitary confinement cells. The two doors nearest me, the ones I could see well enough in the dim light, had names on them: Benjamin and Brianne. I was standing in their childhood.

I heard a sound at the far end of the hall that I’d only ever read about before in the papers. It was quiet, but unmistakable. There was another door at the end of the hall that was identical to the one I had entered through. Through the reinforced glass I could just make out the source of the sound – a tongue slowly sliding along the window.

I froze. This was so much more than I had signed up for. Or was it? Suddenly something on the other side of each of the six metal doors began urgently pounding against them at the same time. I turned back and tried to open the door, hoping to find a way out of there, but the handle wouldn’t budge – it was completely frozen in place.

I heard a click behind me and turned back to find the door at the far end was slowly opening. I resumed my efforts with futile desperation as I put all my weight against the door handle. It didn’t move, not even a millimeter. Adrenaline pumped through my veins as I once again faced the hallway. The other door was wide open now and the Licker slowly approached. It’s like it knew I was cornered and it could take its time with me.

As it moved closer, I noticed something. Just like in the desert, when it moved a certain way, it was out of sync with everything else. For a split second, it was like there were two of them, then suddenly it would just be one again. I balled my hands into fists to steady my shaking hands as I steeled myself. I remembered that image of my wife and the emptiness on her face. It wasn’t going to happen, not today, I determined. I ran straight forward – directly at the Licker.

It didn’t take long, just a few strides, really. One moment I was a mere two feet away from it – close enough to feel despair radiating from those unblinking eyes, to reach out and touch the dark skin – and the next I was stumbling back into the round hallway. My momentum propelled me directly through the jagged edges of another empty window.

I was immediately falling, but it felt different. I was falling and flying at the same time, tumbling freely through a pitch void. Then he was there. A pink mist shot out from behind him, followed by stars, then planets, then entire galaxies. The Dream Killer and Brianne stood there, silhouettes against the backdrop of the universe. He raised his hands and sneered as thunder boomed, reverberating through my body. “You think you can fight me? This is my life! You can’t take this from me!”

I yelled Brianne’s name.

Suddenly his face was inches from mine as drops of water (I guess you could call it rain) flew in every direction. He spoke without addressing me and his lips remained still. “Who are you? What tasty secrets are in this mind?”

His eyes burned my own to look at and I raised my hand to shield my face.

“No!” Lightning shot through the planets as Brianne yelled in defiance. “He is not yours and my head is not your plaything! This is not your world anymore!”

He spun around and extended a hand towards her, his black fingers growing to quickly close the gap of at least ten feet between them until they easily pierced her gut as if skin and flesh were nothing but air and water. She cried out as blood seeped from wounds still plugged with his long, boney fingers. He flicked his hand and she instantly flew backwards, spinning aimlessly through the stars, a trail of blood floating in her wake. As her blood drifted away, it seamlessly transformed into clusters of yellowed teeth. I instinctively tried to jump and found myself falling after her. I attempted to call her name but I couldn’t get any words to leave my mouth. I felt the air being sucked out of me. His voice pounded in my head.

“Oh, this is an interesting one. So many thoughts, so much to see that is hidden… even from himself. Hello, Jeremy.”

I felt sparks of electricity flick through parts of my body and mind as his fingers inched closer to me. They brushed my head and I suddenly felt an intense pressure in my skull. He was digging in my brain! The colors around me stopped being colors and started being first flavors, then sounds. I was at his mercy – helpless as he dug into me. We were going to lose. We were going to die. I closed my eyes and focused on one word.


I opened my eyes to find she was directly in front of me, pounding the air as it warped around her, trapping her. I reached through it with much difficulty and grabbed her hand. The pressure in my head went away. The air stood still; the planets froze; the stars grew bright. We descended together until we were level with him.

I felt something crackling and glanced at Brianne to see that she was covered in static and seemed to somehow be growing… louder – but without saying a word. Her presence was noise and I felt it radiate from her to me. She squeezed my hand and I felt us both becoming stronger. We were connected in that moment, but I couldn’t explain how – I think her psychic abilities were affecting me, or maybe enhancing what was already there.

He didn’t hesitate with his response. Planets disintegrated behind him and started to feed into him, becoming a part of him. He grew as dust and rock swirled together until he blotted out the stars. Without looking, I whispered to Brianne, “What’s the plan?”

She didn’t respond. I don’t think she had one. He towered above us, stretching as high as a skyscraper, a blurry figure of darkness. In a blink, he would wipe us out, any second now. I could hear it in his thoughts.

“Do you know how good it feels to enter these minds? It feeds me, gives me rest, makes me stronger. And what does it even matter in the end? People going through such dull lives. The only excitement they even feel anymore is when I tinker with their dreams, whispering in their sleeping ears. And you, for even a second, think you can do anything to-”

He stopped in mid-sentence. In a blink, he was gone. The maze of dark galaxies had vanished with him. Instead we were in the desert once more. Awake.

There was an echo across the canyon and a ringing in my ears. I was completely disoriented and felt nauseous. It was Brianne who got up first and started stumbling towards the abandoned buildings, past the smoking wreckage of a car that hadn’t been there when we fell asleep. I struggled to my feet to follow her. We made our way down to the blue building and stopped in the sagging doorway.

Ron was standing up over the still body of the person we had only seen in our dreams. He turned to look at us as he slid something into his jacket pocket and said the only three words there were to say: “It’s over now.”

I felt like I couldn’t tear my gaze from the body on the ground behind Ron as the eyes stared blankly, the evil within them now nowhere to be found. Blood soaked his chest and a mostly clean bullet hole dotted the center of his forehead. Even now as I record this, that image is still firmly ingrained in my mind. Ron moved past us and said that we should get out of here as he stepped outside. I turned to Brianne who was still staring at the body on the ground as she held a hand to her stomach. Thinking about the fact that he’d basically been stalking her for a while now, I tried to reassure her that it really was over. He wasn’t going to be able to do anything to her anymore. We’d stood together against him in her dreams and we’d won. Judging by how she was clutching her stomach and my own splitting headache, it hadn’t been without our share of wounds.

She finally tore her gaze from him and faced me. She just looked at me for a moment, as if searching my eyes, before speaking. 

“Sometimes after I wake up from a dream, I remember bits and pieces of it. Glimpses of the memories. It doesn’t always make sense, but I know that in those moments I’ve seen his face before. I think he would show up in different forms, and when he did look like himself, he was younger in my dreams; that’s why I didn’t recognize him… at first. But he knew me. Our childhoods crossed. I still don’t really remember it, but I know something terrible happened to him. I don’t know that he’s the one who holds all the blame for every death we’ve been looking into.”

She looked back down at the vacant body and continued, “I don’t know everything that happened tonight, but this doesn’t feel like victory. We didn’t win here.”

I didn’t know what to say so I just stood there, following her gaze. Finally, she turned away from the body. Somehow, she looked even more tired than before and her voice sounded worn as she spoke again. “I just want to go home now.”

The drive back was spent in silence. I couldn’t remember a time I’d been more completely exhausted and Brianne doubly so. While she slept in the backseat, I sat restlessly in the front. I thought about asking Ron what has happened, why he’d had to kill him instead of trying to apprehend the Dream Killer if that was supposedly the plan, and what had I seen him put in his pocket? The weight of the day was too much. Maybe once we were far enough away from Hellhole Canyon… but for now, my brain needed a break.

Brianne woke up as we pulled up outside her apartment. Ron got out and handed me my keys back, told me to make sure she got inside safe, then started to walk away. I was in disbelief so I called after him: “Hey, what the hell!” 

He just glanced back over his shoulder and said things had to be cleaned up, then rounded the corner and disappeared. I was reaching the end of my patience with Ron and his disappearing act with little to no explanation of what the fuck was actually going on. The church, then the funeral, the documents from 4thTrumpet I still haven’t figured out how to confront him about, and now this? Sooner or later I was going to get some answers whether he liked it or not. 

Brianne was asleep before her head hit the pillow, mumbling that I should go home and she was fine as she started to snore before the words were all the way off her tongue. It was probably the first time in a while she didn’t have to worry about being hunted in her sleep. I went home and, despite my own weariness, wasn’t able to find the same relief. Somehow, I knew the nightmare wasn’t over, yet.

Before I officially conclude Season 3, I need to ask for your help.  If you can recall back in episode 16 this season, the episode entitled, “The Shepherds,” I received some information from someone I don’t yet know, but who 4thTrumpet vouched for.

He said the next time he communicated would be “hidden in plain sight”… that I should “keep on the lookout for a very obvious change to something both you and your listeners have access to.”  Well, has anyone looked at our website lately?  At 

Perhaps it’s nothing.  But if it isn’t, I could really use your help. I’ll be in touch when we get a little closer to Season 4, and if you’re on Patreon, well… I suppose you’ll be hearing from me next week.

Final Rest – Season 3 Episode 19

See Content Warnings
General horror, language, tobacco use, injection of unknown substance resulting in adverse side effects, brief mention of a poor diet, and brief mention of death and injury.
Need to skip this episode? Click here to see the plot.
Jeremy reads a short paper about a person who sees that everything is made of bugs, but only when they sleep. They are whisked away to Hellhole Canyon and killed.

Jeremy’s recording is interrupted when Brianne calls him to ask him to meet at the behest of both Ron and Dr. Patel.

Jeremy arrives at Brianne’s apartment to find that Ron is already there. He was given a drug by Dr. Patel that will enable Brianne to dream while still awake and hopefully locate the dream killer.

She sees him, but isn’t able to communicate anything other than “he’s in hell.” She collapses to the ground and Ron and Jeremy go to take her to the hospital. While en route, Jeremy mentioned Hellhole Canyon and Ron realizes that must be where the dream killer is.

They go out to Hellhole Canyon and Ron goes off looking for the dream killer, searching a seemingly abandoned commune. After he leaves, Brianne collapses due to a seizure. As soon as Jeremy touches her arm, everything goes white for him.

I had just hit the record button to start reading another paper when I got a phone call. Getting interrupted when you’re trying to record something can be frustrating, but I’m glad I checked who it was. Brianne Scanlon’s name read out on the caller ID, so I answered and put it on speaker.

JEREMY:    Hello, this is Jeremy.

BRIANNE:    Hey, Jeremy, I-

JEREMY:    Real quick before you go, I just want you to know I have you on speaker and I’m recording. Is that okay, Brianne?

BRIANNE:    (sigh) You know you don’t have to keep asking me that, right? It’s fine, I get it. If there’s something I don’t want to be on the podcast… I trust you to delete it when I ask.

JEREMY:    I’ll try to remember that. Now, sorry, I interrupted you?

BRIANNE:    I got a call from that doctor lady you’ve been talking to.

JEREMY:    The… you mean Doctor Patel? How did you know-

BRIANNE:    Ron.

JEREMY:    You heard from him?

BRIANNE:    I… we talked after… after Ben’s funeral. But I haven’t heard from him since. I think he just needs some time. I don’t know everything going through his head right now. Honestly I don’t even know everything going through my own head. But the doctor reached out to him. She called us to give us some instructions and let it slip to Ron that she’d already spoken with you.

JEREMY:    Instructions? What kind of instructions?

BRIANNE:    They… look, I have to run an errand real fast, but do you think you can come by in an hour? It’ll be easier to explain in person, and she said you need to be there.

JEREMY:    I need to be there? I don’t understand.

BRIANNE:    I know, and I’m sorry, but will you be here?

JEREMY:    Yeah, I’ll come over. An hour?

BRIANNE:    Yeah. Great. Thanks, Jeremy.

Needless to say, the conversation with Brianne caught me off guard entirely, but I only had about an hour to record. This was actually a paper I was going to record for the bonus content released on the Patreon, but given the information inside, I thought it best to include it in this week’s episode. I suspect it played a role in how everything turned out.

I had found a single sheet of notebook paper, wrinkled and frayed at the edges. There’s no name, no date… nothing to cross reference for context. With that in mind, I’ll read it now.

The world is dark, but not for want of light. The bed on which you lie is not made of cloth and cushion, it is made of them. The black things that crawl. The walls of your room, the water you drink, the food you eat, it is all them. When you step outside, they blot out the sun. Their many tiny legs move quickly and they fly in formation, giving the illusion of things you know.

When you bleed, it calls to them. If you don’t wake up in your dreams, they feast. The flesh from your body will shed under their teeth. I am awake, although I dream. I am in the true world, the one I have known since I was young, the one under the skin of the delusion we share as we awaken. My skin is covered in cuts, scabs, and scars from them that no eye sees when we open our eyes.

Even now, I feel their tiny mouths as they try to latch onto my arms, my legs, anything they can reach, but I keep moving. I don’t try to move this time, but I move. I am pulled from my bedroom by something new. I can feel it grabbing at my skull and dragging me. I leave my home of the dark things and try to fight them off as they are scattered through the air. I’m pulled up, out of my neighborhood. I can see the whole colony of them that make up the houses, the trees, even the mailboxes. But still, I am pulled away. I see the desert below me, the grains of sand made of the tiny black things, all crawling over each other.

I see it ahead of me. Unlike the rest, it is not black, has color. It is red. Not normal red. It’s like when you close your eyes after staring at a cold, blue light. It’s out of focus, almost transparent. It wants to move as I move my eyes, but it stays still as I approach. I am pulled inside of it. He is there into the red of the darkness. We are in the canyon of the hellhole.

This will be my last journey, I know it in my soul, the thing that he is grabbing at. He is looking for something now. He is slicing into me – through my mind… my soul. I feel stars burst from my wounds and fill the abandoned air around me with colors I’ve never seen. At least my last sight will be beautiful.

My mind raced with the possibilities as I drove to Brianne’s place. Through the papers I felt as if I’d been there already, but I was somewhat surprised that it looked exactly how I’d imagined it when I parked my car – right down to the bicycle chained to a street sign outside. I must have driven past there before, but I can’t recall exactly when. I knocked on the door to her apartment and was surprised when it wasn’t Brianne who answered… it was Ron. The cocktail of surprise, confusion, fear must have been evident on my face, because Ron just told me to come in and they would explain. I hesitated, then followed him into the dim interior, immediately assaulted by the smell of stale cigarettes. Ron took a seat on the worn sofa, moving a crumpled blanket between Brianne and him as he did so. Aside from pulling a cigarette to her lips, Brianne didn’t move at all. Deep bags hung under eyes which seemed to stare at nothing. 

I sat down in a wooden chair opposite them and glanced around the apartment. She had definitely been busy. The laptop sat on her IKEA-style coffee table, surrounded by a number of books on topics ranging from understanding psychic abilities and the meanings of dreams all the way to biblical conspiracy theories and an introduction to quantum physics. The blanket on the couch behind the coffee table and several dirty coffee mugs told me how she had been spending her nights – the ones she remembered anyways.

I motioned to a pile of papers sitting on the kitchen counter to my left and half-jokingly asked if she was intending to start her own collection of storage papers. Neither of them acknowledged the attempt at an ice breaker. Instead, Ron leaned forward and asked how much I knew about what was going on.

I was more than a little confused by this. I asked him what he knew, and better yet, where had he been since the funeral?

He glanced back at Brianne but she just took another drag off her cigarette and stared unwavering at the coffee table. I followed her gaze and realized that she was actually staring at two vials, one containing a green liquid and one with a clear liquid, neither of which I had noticed a moment ago. Next to them was a set of sealed hypodermic needles. Clearly I was missing some information. I looked back at Ron and asked him again exactly what was going on.

That’s when Brianne finally spoke up and started to connect the dots for me. In the dreams she had been having, someone had been trying to get to her. The blurred individual which was mentioned in Episode Three, Dream Eater, had become a recurring vision. Even when she couldn’t necessarily see the person… she could feel them, and felt like she knew them. Based on what she had been digging up through her own searching, she wasn’t the only one. As I’d read in the papers myself, people – or rather, a person – had been finding and killing people through their dreams – quite possibly for a long time now.

She finally looked at Ron, glancing at him before looking back down at the vials in front of us. Ron picked up from there. Doctor Patel had given him something – an experimental drug – that, as she described, would make it so Brianne could dream while fully awake. It’s sort of like sleep paralysis, but without the paralysis part and with more of an emphasis on lucid dreaming.

My eyes fell to the green liquid. I asked if it was safe. Brianne gave a short, almost bitter laugh before asking, does it matter? As much as I didn’t want to agree, she had a point. If the killer continued unchecked, the clock on Brianne’s life was ticking fast. I looked first to Ron, then to Brianne, before asking… why was I there?

Ron looked me dead in the eyes as he answered. The plan is for Brianne to find the killer. Once she finds them, we’re all going to head there together; Brianne has to be with in case they move. Ron was going to go looking for them to take them in when we got there, but we also didn’t know what state Brianne would be in. I was there to keep an eye on her when Ron couldn’t.

“And…” he started to add, seeming to struggle with the right words, “Doctor Patel seems to think you might be able to… connect… with Brianne, I mean. In a way that I can’t.”

He shifted uncomfortably and to be honest I didn’t feel especially comfortable with it myself. I’d have to be inhuman to not empathize with Brianne, but I didn’t think that constituted any sort of special connection. And even if it did on some level… how would the doctor know anything about it?

With involvement from both Ron and Doctor Patel, to say I was uneasy with moving forward would be putting it lightly. I stood and pulled Brianne aside for a moment.

“I don’t think this is a good idea,” I said.

She just shrugged. “Of course it isn’t, but do you have a better one?”

I glanced back at Ron who was fiddling with the vials, then whispered, “No, I mean, this is a really bad idea. I… I don’t think Ron’s telling us everything. I think he’s involved with Hydra.”

She paused at this, and her eyes drifted away from me as she took another drag off her cigarette. Finally she quietly spoke. “I trust him. Maybe more than I should. More than he has a right to be trusted.”

I wanted to scream why, but she continued. “There’s things about him that you still might not now. I’m sure there’s stuff that I don’t know either. But regardless, this plan obviously hinges on Hydra’s involvement with that stuff from the Patel lady. This person… they’re Hydra’s fuck up right? I’m betting they want him gone just as much as we do.”

In a convoluted way, she was right, and I didn’t have a response. She sat back down and nodded to Ron. I returned as well and decided that if nothing else, I’d stick around so I could help Brianne. With that though, I nodded curtly towards Ron. I was in. At least this plan seemed less complicated than the last one I was a part of. Hopefully everyone comes out alive this time. Ron grabbed the green vial and began to screw on the needle.

“Are you ready?” he asked Brianne. She simply nodded. I panicked for a moment. For some reason I hadn’t realized this was happening now. She looked at me and, seeming to sense my nervous state, gave a tired wink, as if to say, what’s the worst that could happen?

Ron struggled for a moment to find her vein before Brianne took the needle from him, telling him she’d seen enough bad needle sticks before and didn’t feel like going through that. She then unceremoniously made a fist and jabbed the needle into the crook of her elbow. The plunger reached the bottom of the vial and she pulled the needle out before going to the kitchen for an adhesive bandage.

Ron said it shouldn’t take too long to start working. I noted the vial of clear liquid on the table and asked what that was for. Ron started to answer then stopped as he looked behind me. I turned to see Brianne standing behind me, swaying ever so slightly as she stared into nothing.

Ron called her name, “Brianne?”

Her gaze shifted slowly, as if she was turning her head underwater. “Yeeeess?” she asked, her words slow but not slurred.

Ron got up and brought her back to the couch where he gently sat her down. Thinking back to what she had told me about her dreams before, I searched the collection of papers until I found what I was looking for. I reached out and placed the blank card in her hand, ensuring her fingers held onto it before letting go and motioning back to the full vial.

“When do we give that one to her?” I asked.

Ron kept his eyes on Brianne as he responded. “It’s not for her. If she encounters the killer in this state and they notice her, she may be able to… pull it into her dream and use it on them. I know how that sounds, but is it any weirder than anything you’ve read yet?”

He had me there. He continued, “And if they resist me when I try to bring them to Detective Anderson, I’ll use it on them.”

I nodded in understanding, but the more I thought about it, the less his statement made sense. Before I could ask anymore questions, Brianne spoke. Well, it was still her voice, but much deeper than I’d ever imagined her speaking.

“There you are.”

Ron perked up and, ignoring the change in vocals, started asking her, “What’s going on? What do you see, Brianne?”

Her responses started off more than a little incoherent, but her voice returned to normal, if somewhat… dreamy.

“He’s here. But he’s there. His eyes are angry. No, sad. And curious. Why? It’s written in every blurred scar. I see them now. They are all over his flickering body, like the windows we cracked in our dreams. And his dark eyes, they’re looking, all over, they’re everywhere!”

I shifted in my seat uncomfortably and couldn’t resist a quick look around the room. As expected, I saw nothing.

She continued, “He’s… different now. He’s wearing a khaki suit and… holding something. A pipe. Like, for smoking. No… he’s a boy. Now a woman… holding a spoon that’s dripping blood. No, she – I mean, he – is wearing a gray suit. Now he’s… oh my god!”

Ron called out to her, asking if she was okay and if she could tell where the killer was. She nodded dreamily but said nothing as her eyes dropped to her card, then back to nothingness. I asked her to tell us what everything looked like, hoping her visions would make more sense as she tried to describe them, but worried that she was essentially just taking an incredibly strong hallucinogenic instead of the miracle drug promised by Ron and Doctor Patel.

Brianne started talking again. I could tell by her face she was concentrating very hard to make sense to us as she said, “The light… is dark.”

She looked back at us, focusing hard on first Ron, then me, then repeated herself. “The light is dark.”

Ron and I exchanged glances, but it meant nothing to us. Brianne must have seen our confusion, because she sighed and tried again. “He’s behind you, but he doesn’t see you. It’s hard to see him – your shirt is glowing orange like fire; it’s too bright. I can’t see behind you too much.”

My eyes dropped to my outfit. I was wearing a dark green shirt and sitting in the shadows on top of that. Regardless, I moved out of her way.

“There he is,” she said, pointing at the wall. “He’s trying to talk to me. No, to everyone. He’s like a radio. He’s screaming, now! It’s so loud! It’s so loud!”

Brianne collapsed to the ground, crying. She curled into the fetal position as she covered her ears. Ron and I both ran over to her and Ron started to shake her, yelling her name.

“Brianne? Brianne! Wake up!”

She shook her head from side to side, unable to hear us over the screaming in her head. With some difficulty, Ron managed to pull her hands away from her ears. She looked up at him, tears still streaming from her eyes, sniffling as she asked for it to stop.

Ron ignored her because he had to. There was nothing we could do for her except for the whole reason she had taken the drug to begin with – we had to stop the killer. Ron barked out a question: “Where is he?”

She didn’t look away from him as she answered, her voice again uncomfortably deep. “He’s in hell.”

Ron let go of her arms and stood up, his frustration evident in every movement. I was still kneeling by Brianne’s side. I took her hand in mine and grabbed her wrist with my other hand while a small drip of blood slid from the needle prick in her arm. For a moment, I felt as though I could hear the screaming, too. Holding her hand may have seemed like a gesture to comfort her, but I wanted to check her pulse. I’m no doctor, but even I could tell it was too fast. I asked Ron what we should do.

He threw a hand in the air that had been covering his mouth as he paced and yelled that he didn’t know, what do you do when the person you’re hunting is in hell?

Brianne suddenly stopped moving and relaxed. We both stared at her as she sat up. I asked her if she was okay. She gave a weak smile and said that the drug had worked, but she was finished with the nightmare. I heard Ron give an audible sigh of relief before asking the obvious… so where was the guy, really? Brianne started to answer, then froze as she stared at Ron. I said her name cautiously, but she didn’t acknowledge it and started crying, “He’s there! That’s him! It’s him!” while pointing at Ron.

I looked at him. Was this what Hydra had him doing? He looked confused, then moved to the side. Brianne continued to point where he had been standing. She was dreaming again.

She curled up onto her side, once again in the fetal position. I had a hard time tearing my eyes from where Ron was pacing, still feeling suspicious. I looked back down at Brianne where she lay on the floor, eyes now wide open and unfocused, still in pain and muttering to herself. I leaned in close to try to make out what she was saying.

“He’s coming now. He knows I see him but he doesn’t know who but he’ll know. He’s going to take me, make him stop. Make him stop, it’s so loud!”

I told Ron we had to take her to the hospital, at least to give her some sort of sedative. If the Dream Killer didn’t get to her first, she was going to have a heart attack. Ron only hesitated for a second before agreeing. Together, we lifted Brianne and carried her down to the car. I was surprised when we picked her up – firstly at how light she was. The drive down the rabbit hole seemed to have offered her time for a diet of only coffee and smokes. The second thing that caught me off guard was just how spry Ron was as he carried her. Although she was light, she was still a human being and he carried her with far more ease than I expected.

Lastly, as I grabbed both her wrists, I suddenly had a splitting headache. It was almost debilitating and came out of nowhere. Once we laid Brianne down in the backseat of my car, I tossed Ron my keys. My headache was fading, but I didn’t want to risk being distracted by another wave as we drove. Ron sped wordlessly towards the hospital for a minute before breaking his silence. “This doesn’t make any sense. How can he be in hell?”

I didn’t know what to say and ended up staring out the window as street signs flew past us. Brianne snapped out of her dream for another moment and I spun back to face her, but she went back into her state of a waking nightmare before she was able to say anything. I bit my fingernail as I found myself replaying today’s events in my head. I thought back to Brianne’s phone call and how I never could have imagined we’d be putting her in such danger… again. I thought about if all this was worth continuing with the podcast. That Sticky Note episode I had recorded hardly seemed important now. Still, I found myself reciting it back, probably as a way to distract myself from my inability to help Brianne.

“…into the red of the darkness, we are in the canyon of the hellhole…”

Ron asked me what I just said. I hadn’t even realized I’d been talking aloud, but I repeated myself. He asked me why that sounded familiar, so I explained that I’d been recording some papers that often lack more context and putting them on the Patreon for The Storage Papers.

He suddenly swerved the car as we went through an intersection, completing a U-turn in the middle of it. Before I could even ask, he started talking, much faster now.

“I knew that sounded familiar. That was about somebody seeing a world of bugs or something right?”

I was busy catching my breath and holding on for dear life as Ron weaved in and out of traffic. He continued without my input.

“Yeah, I remember that one. Her mind or soul or whatever was being pulled… out to the canyon of the hellhole.”

I asked him what that meant. He glanced at me, but only for a split second and kept driving, the speedometer not dropping below ninety.

“Something you don’t know – you couldn’t – about that paper… I knew that woman. She was a psychic who died in her sleep with unexplainable cuts and tears inside her body, but not a mark on her skin. I didn’t make the connection until just now, but at the time I ended up writing it off as unsolvable. Hellhole Canyon is a place. When she was killed, I spent a lot of time out there looking for answers, for any trace of whoever killed her. I found an abandoned commune and it looked like someone had been out there in the red building she’d described, but when I staked it out, nobody showed so I assumed it was some hiker or urban explorer. Some people are into that shit, you know? Anyways… this killer… he’s not in hell… yet. That’s where he is, though: Hellhole Canyon. I’d bet my life on it.”

I looked it up on my phone. Ron was right. It was about an hour and a half drive. I turned and looked back at Brianne. Her eyes were open, pupils fully dilated, and she seemed to be staring past the ceiling of the car and into a realm beyond my eyes. I hoped she had an hour and a half. I hoped Ron was right.

The sun was down by the time we arrived and stars peeked in from the night sky like thousands of glowing eyes, watching us from above. Brianne was still alive and had been going back and forth between this reality and the reality of her dreams throughout the drive, although she seemed to be mostly in the reality we shared by the time we pulled up. I suspected – hoped – that the drug was wearing off.

I rubbed my arms as I got out of the car. It was cold. Ron and Brianne exited and we all took a moment to check out our surroundings. We were at the trailhead for Hellhole Canyon. A massive, flat landscape of rock, sand, and dirt stretched before us, spotted with the occasional brittlebush and ocotillo cacti. Around us, the earth stretched up as if to grab the sky and pull it down to swallow us within its dark void.

Ron told us we had to hike a little ways before we would find the abandoned buildings. Apparently it was a ways off the beaten path. I asked Brianne if she would be okay and, while she assured me she would, I didn’t like our odds. At this point, we didn’t have too many other choices, though. We had basically put a giant beacon on Brianne for the killer. If we turned back now… there was no way to know how much more time she had.

Ron led the way and I followed behind Brianne, keeping a close eye on her to make sure she didn’t need a break or collapse from either another dream or exhaustion. Despite the chill in the air, I worked up a sweat by the time Ron finally stopped. He turned back to us as Brianne doubled over, trying to catch her breath. He paused as he looked at her, then focused on me, letting me know that on the other side of these boulders in front of us was the commune and he was going to go in alone.

“Stay here with Brianne. Protect her with your life,” he said to me. I nodded and looked at her, still panting, as Ron stepped out from behind the boulders and muttered to himself, “Too many buildings to check… I don’t like it. I’d rather burn the lot of them.”

Sometimes two things collide at just the right moment and, for the second time today, I made a connection that I hoped would save us all. In the Sticky Note, the woman had been pulled into something red, but she’d also described how it seemed like the exact opposite color. Likewise, Brianne had described my dark green shirt as being bright orange, “like fire.” The light was dark. 

I called out as quietly as I could, “Ron… look in the blue building.”

He looked back at me and I couldn’t quite make out his expression in the dark, but he nodded, then disappeared beyond the boulders.

I spotted a stone that was mostly flat on top and helped ease Brianne down onto it. She looked like she was going to throw up. We said nothing, just waited… waited and hoped. The silence was broken by the mournful howl of a lone coyote and I found myself wishing Ron had left me with something more solid and perhaps even gun-like than the distinct lack of defensive gear. Now that I thought about it, why hadn’t he?

Growing antsy, I walked over to the boulders and peered around them. It appeared to be exactly what Ron had described – an abandoned commune. There were buildings half eaten by the elements with remnants of broken furniture scattered in and around them like a corpse’s spilled guts. I tried to see if I could spot Ron, but if he was there, he was sticking closely to the shadows.

I heard a thump behind me and spun around to find Brianne collapsed to the ground and shaking. I ran to her and dropped to my knee. She was having a seizure. It had to be that damn drug! I knew Ron couldn’t be trusted. I quickly tried to roll her onto her side to keep her airways open since she had already been on the verge of vomiting before this. As soon as I touched her arm, my mind exploded and my world changed as everything went white.

Missing Teresa – Season 3 Episode 18

See Content Warnings
General horror, language, brief mention of alcohol, topics involving death
Need to skip this episode? Click here to see the plot.
Mark and Brianne help Jeremy in this episode by reading text message transcripts between Rick and Teresa.

During the back and forth conversation, Teresa dies. While texting his grief to the phone number, he begins to receive replies. Teresa warns him that something is coming after him from beyond, and it’s using her to find him. He goes on the run to try to escape them, but every time they communicate, it brings the thing closer.

Eventually, Teresa realizes it’s inevitable, and lets the thing take her instead to break the connection.

Jeremy attempts to call the phone numbers. Someone else has Teresa’s number and states two men have tried to call that number but neither of them claimed to be Rick. He calls Rick, but Rick has no recollection of who Teresa is.

JEREMY:    Today I brought a couple of friends to read through some text messages.

BRIANNE:    Hello everyone, I’m Brianne. Brianne Scanlon.

MARK:    And I’m Mark Anderson.

JEREMY:    Thank you both for helping me out. I thought it’d make more sense to read through and record the exchange this way. I haven’t shared what the messages are about at all and I’ll be interested to hear their thoughts as outsiders to this whole project once we finish reading the transcripts.

BRIANNE:    This is pretty different to the stuff I’ve seen so far. I’ve been so focused with that set of files I’ve been going through, I guess I kind of forgot there’s probably a bunch of different types of stuff you run across.

JEREMY:    Without further ado, we’ll jump into this exchange between Rick, whose messages Mark will read, and Teresa, who will be given a voice by the lovely Brianne here.

RICK:     You know there’s no such thing as fashionably late, right? You’re just late.

TERESA:     Shut up, I’m on my way. Do you need me to get anything? Beer?

RICK:     Just get your ass over here. You’re literally going to be the last person to arrive.

TERESA:     Whatever, I’m in the car now.

RICK:     Actually, can you stop and get a case of some gluten free shirt? Cider or something? Micah is asking. (pause) Shit, I meant shit, not shirt. Stupid auto correct. Are you almost here yet?

JEREMY:     I’m going to pause this for a moment because I should mention that there’s a note that two calls from Rick to Teresa went unanswered at this point. Fifteen minutes later, six more calls were made and remained unanswered. Then two more texts are sent by Rick.

RICK:     Teresa, pick up. Even if you stopped for beer you should have been here by now. What’s going on? (pause) Teresa?

JEREMY:     There are no more text messages for the next few days, then Rick sends a series of messages.

RICK:     I’m sorry, Teresa. I shouldn’t have texted you. I knew you were driving and…it’s my fault. I should have just called. I know you’ll never see this. I know you’re gone, but…I miss you. At the funeral I saw everyone from the party and just looking at them made it hurt even more. Reliving that night. I’m so sorry. I can’t say it enough. I’m so sorry.

TERESA:     It’s okay.

RICK:     What the fuck? Who is this?

TERESA:     It’s me. That’s who you’re texting, right?

RICK:     Whoever this is, it’s not funny. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have texted this number. But I just helped bury my friend today and now is not the time for a prank.

TERESA:     Rick, it’s Teresa. I hope I didn’t ruin the party. Sorry I never got that cider for Micah.

RICK:     What the hell? (pause) Okay, obviously whoever this is has Teresa’s old phone. Just stop it. Stop it right now. You’re not funny. This isn’t ever going to be appreciated by anyone. Just stop. Please.

TERESA:     Rick, it’s really me. And you don’t need to be sorry. It was my own fault. (pause) Rick?

RICK:     I really wish you would stop.

BRIANNE:     Sorry, time out or whatever. Jeremy, is this… are you sure this is real?

JEREMY:     I…you should keep reading. 

BRIANNE:     Okay, then. Let’s see…

TERESA:     C’mon, Rick, we don’t have time for this. I’m dead. I’m texting you. Can we move on?

RICK:     No! No, we can’t just move on. That’s absolutely ridiculous!

TERESA:     There’s something you need to know.

RICK:     No, there’s something you need to know! I lost my best friend today and this is just sick. 

TERESA:     Rick, come on, it’s me. We’ve known each other since eighth grade and I turned you down to homecoming. We don’t have time for this so I need you to believe me or just pretend like you do so you’ll listen! 

RICK:     Fine. What do you want to tell me from beyond? Are you a ghost or something? 

TERESA:     It’s… hard to explain. I guess I’m kind of a ghost. But it’s not like I thought it’d be.

RICK:     What do you mean? 

TERESA:     I don’t know. I’m not sure what all the rules are or if there are any rules. I can’t interact with stuff. Honestly I’m not even sure how I’m able to text you and it’s freaking me out but I know I have to tell you some stuff. Even though I can’t interact with most things, I’ve seen others who can.

RICK:     I thought ghosts only mess with stuff when they’re angry. 

TERESA:     Like I said, I don’t entirely understand how it all works, but not everyone who touches things is angry. I’ve seen some people just clinging to those they loved. Moving small things around like bumping their keys to make them easier to find. 

RICK:     First I’ve ever heard of a friendly poltergeist. 

TERESA:     You and me both. But they aren’t all friendly. It’s hard to explain, but there are things, that when they get close, things just get…I don’t know, darker, I guess. Colder. More electric. It’s harder to see things because they bring a kind of fog with them. It’s scary. 

RICK:     How is it scary? You’re already a ghost. What are they going to do? 

TERESA:     Look, when I first saw them, I saw all the other spirits around and they all looked the same: scared shitless. So I did what they did, I ran. Or floated. Or whatever. I didn’t know why they scared me at first, just that I wasn’t the only one who’s instinctively afraid of them so there must be a good reason. I think it’s a primitive instinct born inside all of us. Something passed onto us from our cavemen ancestors.

RICK:     Okay, but why did you have to tell me this so much that you’re texting me from the other side? 

TERESA:    Because I learned why I should be scared. They can touch things in the physical world. They can touch people. I saw…I saw what was left of someone once they touched them. It’s something only the dead can see. (pause) When you started texting me and it was somehow able to actually get through…it was like someone blowing a dog whistle. As long as you have this connection to me, I think they’re going to come for you. (pause) Rick? 

RICK:     What does that mean? What happened to the people they touched? Are they coming for me right now? 

TERESA:     The fog of the things engulfed the person and…I can’t. I can’t tell you. It’s a secret only for the dead to know. And yes. They’re coming for you. I can see the fog approaching and the air is starting to tingle. 

RICK:     So what do I do? 

TERESA:     You need to run. Right now. Get your keys. Get your wallet. Get in the car and start driving as fast and as far as you can. 

JEREMY:     There’s a gap of about four hours after that message before Rick finally texted Teresa back. 

RICK:     I’m at a gas station now. What’s going on? 

TERESA:     Stop texting me for a minute! They’re looking for you. 

JEREMY:     There’s another gap, this time for almost twelve hours. 

TERESA:     I think they lost me. 

RICK:     I thought they were after me. And where are you now? 

TERESA:     I’m here, next to you on the bed. And they are after you, but they were finding you because of your connection to me. (pause) Yes that’s where I’m sitting, but can you stop waving your hand through me please? It feels weird.

RICK:     You can feel me touching you? 

TERESA:     Yes. Can you feel me? 

RICK:     No. I wish. I miss you. And this whole thing is still kind of hard to digest.

TERESA:     You’re not alone in that. But at least those things lost sight of both of us. It was awful for a few minutes there. I hid everywhere I could but they got closer and I saw what I think was their eyes. I could feel myself being taken into them the closer they got. (pause) I think we’re okay for now. 

RICK:     For now? I checked into this hotel, but how long is this going to take? I have a job and a life! (pause) Sorry, but I can’t just wait around or keep running forever. 

TERESA:     I know. You have nothing to apologize for.

RICK:     If we stop texting, won’t that fix it? That’d sever our connection, right?

TERESA:     Not exactly. Everything that’s here is tethered to something. If they ever find me, even after we stop texting, they just follow the tether. 

RICK:     But why? Why me? Why us?

TERESA:     I don’t know. I really don’t, Rick. I’m sorry. (pause) Oh God. You have to move again.

RICK:     Already? I just got here. 

TERESA:     There’s no time. It’s getting colder and my soul is… oh god I’m losing parts of me! Get moving! Once you leave your room, take the stairs. They’re coming from the elevator side and walls are kind of difficult for us to see through over here so it will buy you some time. I’m sorry, I’ll try to figure this out but I have to hide and fast! Don’t text! 

JEREMY:     Thirty minutes go by before Teresa sends Rick another message. 

TERESA:     Rick, did you get somewhere safe? 

RICK:     Does that even exist? (pause) Teresa, are you still out there? 

TERESA:     Yeah. I’m sorry. I’m just thinking. I might have a plan. 

RICK:     Hopefully something with less running away. 

TERESA:     I’ll let you know soon. Get some rest, though. I’ll text you when it’s time. 

JEREMY:     An hour passes before Teresa texts Rick again.

TERESA:     Rick? 

RICK:     I’m here.

TERESA:     Do you ever think about what would have happened if we’d taken different paths? 

RICK:     What do you mean? 

TERESA:     It’s just…like what if I’d said yes to you in high school all those years ago?

RICK:     Are you asking if we would have made it as a couple? 

TERESA:     I guess. 

RICK:     I mean… our friendship means a lot. You’ve helped me through some really tough times that I’m not sure I would have been able to get through without you. The thought of us going through a relationship that, let’s face it, probably would have ended in disaster and possibly losing that friendship… well, it’s not something I really want to think about, Teresa. (pause) Why do you ask?

TERESA:     I guess it doesn’t matter. You’re right. 

RICK:     So what’s the plan? 

TERESA:     I don’t think I told you enough that I love you. You’ve always been a great friend, Rick. 

RICK:     I love you too… what’s going on? 

TERESA:     They’re going to keep coming, Rick. As long as we have a connection. I don’t know how to break that tether at your end so… I’m going to break it at mine. 

RICK:     What does that mean? 

TERESA:     If it ever starts to get cold or dark for no reason or maybe you just feel a tingle of electricity that you might just shrug off as static or something…run. Don’t think, just run. They can touch you. They can get you. Walls don’t stop them. Nothing will once they find you. So run. Just promise me you’ll do that. 

RICK:     Teresa, what are you doing? 

TERESA:     I’m breaking the connection. 

RICK:     How? 

TERESA:     They’re here now. I can feel them. It hurts. My fingers are kind of… they’re turning into a mist, I think. The fog is so thick, it’s choking me. I think it’s starting to take me. 

RICK:     Get out of there! 

TERESA:     It’s why I had to keep texting you, though. They can find me faster that way. But I get to say goodbye this time, Rick. So… take care of yourself. Don’t blame yourself because none of it is your fault. (pause) Goodbye, Rick. 

RICK:     Teresa, just run away! We’ll figure something else out! (pause) Teresa, please answer me! (pause) Teresa! (pause) I love you, Teresa. 

JEREMY:     That was the last text message exchanged between the two phones. Final thoughts?

BRIANNE:     That was scary. Absolutely terrifying. And really heavy. 

MARK:     It was a trip, for sure. Is it real? 

JEREMY:     The texts? I have no doubt they’re real. As far as what they’re talking about, though? I can’t say with one hundred percent certainty.

BRIANNE:     Well, I don’t know about you or Mark, but… especially with everything else we’re dealing with, I think that for my own sanity I’m going to have to choose to believe that it’s not real. 

JEREMY:     After Brianne and Mark left, I dialed both phone numbers listed in the transcripts. The one for Teresa…it wasn’t Teresa who answered, but apparently I wasn’t the first person who had called asking after her. The lady who owns the number now stated that two other men had called trying to get in touch with the number’s former owner, but she didn’t think either of them gave their name as Rick. If I were to guess one of those was probably Ron…but who was the other? When I called the number listed for Rick he actually answered and confirmed that this was indeed Rick, but he had no memory of anyone named Teresa. I’m not sure if he was just trying to move on or if she had somehow been…erased? And more pressing, does something exist just beyond the skin of this physical world that will hunt us in both this life and the next down given the opportunity? I’d like to follow Brianne’s example and choose not to believe… but something inside me knows better. Thank you for tuning in to The Storage Papers this week. Stay safe out there.

Therapy – Season 3 Episode 17

See Content Warnings
General horror, death, attempted murder, murder
Need to skip this episode? Click here to see the plot.
Jeremy goes to an in-person therapy session. His regular therapist is nowhere to be found, instead he is visited by Dr. Adhira Patel. Dr. Patel wants to learn more about Jeremy. Jeremy asks her about the dream killer. She admits Project Hydra studied him, but states all records of him have been erased and implies that Brianne has them. She also admits that she studied Malcom for Project Hydra. Jeremy admits that he’s drawn to the papers and doesn’t entirely know what his intentions are.

She tells a story about an interdimensional room that appeared and disappeared at will that turned out to be a monster that consumed people who entered the room. She thought it was beautiful and wanted to study it, and fed her assistant to it.

Dr. Patel then tells Jeremy that Malcom is waiting for him and wants to talk to him.

This week’s episode is a bit different. I normally use this time to describe the contents of these boxes-upon-boxes of transcripts and notes, and discuss my research and possibly noteworthy interactions with some of the people and… otherworldly entities contained therein. To be honest, in that respect this episode will be fairly par for the course. I guess what makes this episode different is that I want to talk a little bit more about myself. Before you turn this episode off and move on with your day, there is an interesting story I’d like to share, but it only seems right that I first get this off of my chest. 

I’m willing to admit that I’ve been a bit vague about my personal life… and that’s been mostly intentional. My personal feelings on these subjects don’t affect their outcome. In most cases there’s little I can do to change the often horrible and unforgiving circumstances contained in these documents, and so for my sanity I choose to put a wall between myself and this show’s content. 

Behind that wall is my life: everything and everyone that I hold dear to me and strive to shield from the gnashing teeth of the cold, dark, and unusual world that lives just beneath the surface; one that occasionally reaching out with its gnarled hands to pull those naive enough to venture off of the path, down into its drooling maw.

To avoid waxing prose just to keep reiterating my point… this is dangerous, and I don’t want to expose the people closest to me to the mess I’ve gotten myself in to… at least not any more than I already have. For this reason I tread lightly. 

After what happened with Malcolm and… the Grinner… and what my role in all of it was, I wasn’t sure I wanted anything more to do with the papers and I had considered removing all trace of the podcast and its content. I asked myself for a while why I was really doing all of this, and when Brianne reached out to me for help, and my own strange dreams began to get the better of me, I thought I’d found an answer… but maybe that was just an excuse to keep going. I foolishly thought I could resume my backseat role and keep my distance from the show’s contents, but I’m not sure if that’s really possible… at least not anymore. 

The truth is – going back to the question of why I’m still doing all of this – I’m not sure I really know. It’s like something in the papers keeps drawing me in, and when I close my eyes, I picture myself going through the contents of one of those boxes before I even realize I’m doing it. Other times when I close my eyes I still see the Grinner, his bubbling melted flesh writhing and twisting around jagged bones, calling out to me with its cackling laugh. 

I don’t like to talk about it… and maybe it’s because I don’t like to admit it to myself, but what happened that day and the weeks leading up to it were pretty traumatic for me. The things I saw still haunt me, and resuming a normal life has been an uphill battle. I’ve recently started seeing a therapist in hopes that it could help in some way, and for the most part it has. 

I started off with appointments over the phone, but it was difficult to make the call… too easy to run away and ignore it (something I’ve been doing for months). Recently I’ve found an office where I can make visits in person, which are a lot more difficult to run away from. Inside it’s small and outdated. There’s a kind of uncomfortable nostalgia. Framed prints of scenery from the late eighties dot the walls: picturesque beaches lit in soft purple pastel colors with pinkish red sunsets trickling in ribbons across the water. They sort of blend in with the faded teal wallpaper, and they remind me of the pediatricians office I’d go to for check ups when I was kid. The chairs are old but without much wear and the flat wooden armrests are too far apart to comfortably place your elbows on. There’s that clinical feeling in the air that makes it feel much more like a dentist’s office than a therapist’s office.  

Nonetheless, I’ve found therapy helpful. I never get much further than the stress, the anxiety attacks, the nights I wake up frantic, searching through the house and ripping open closet doors and peeking through the blinds. And the days I spend just sitting, frozen while the whole world just keeps moving around me like everything is normal. It helps to talk it out, even if I can’t share all of the details. 

Yesterday was… different. 

The waiting room was silent, barring the hum of the fluorescent lights. The front desk was devoid of the usual smiling receptionist. Stationed at either side of the room were two uniformed police officers. I met the first with a nod, and in response his eyes shifted elsewhere. I sat down and waited to be checked in, nervously eyeing a poster on the wall detailing the signs of grief. 

I heard a trembling voice calling out from the hall ahead of me. Tt took me a moment to realize they were calling my name. I stepped into the hallway and I was greeted by the receptionist. Her face was flush and her eyes had a kind of pinkish hue. er eyeliner had separated into tiny black droplets that dotted her bottom eyelashes. It looked like she’d been crying. 

“She will see you now,” she mumbled before slinking back towards the waiting room. My stomach knotted with the thought of what I might find behind the door as I made my way to my therapist’s office. Nothing about this was normal, and while that certainly hadn’t just dawned on me, it’d finally started to really pull at my nerves. 

When I entered I was relieved to find that I wasn’t staring back at the jagged picket fence teeth of the Grinner, but instead sat in my therapist’s office was an… impostor: a completely different woman who I didn’t exactly recognize. She wore a dark grey pantsuit and her black hair was formed into a neat bun. Her horn-rimmed glasses sat at the end of her nose, showing off the neatly applied makeup under her eyes. She was pretty in a way that sort of makes you feel uncomfortable. 

I raised my hand to knock on the frame of the open door, before nervously lowering it, with the intent of apologizing for almost walking into the wrong office. Before I could do or say anything, the woman spoke.

“It’s okay, Jeremy. Have a seat.” 

I was put off, but not wanting to make for a more awkward situation, I complied.

“Do you know who I am?” the woman asked warmly. I replied that I did not. She smiled. “That’s perfectly okay, Jeremy, we’ve never formally met. I’m Doctor Adhira Patel.” 

The blood moved like toothpaste, my heart throbbing and constricting to pump it through my veins. In hindsight I could have just gotten up and walked away, but the unexpected turn of events left me feeling like a deer in headlights. Plus I’d now started to put the pieces together regarding the strange presence of the police officers in the lobby… if they even were real police officers. Dr. Patel evened a stack of papers on the desk in front of her before leaning back and crossing her hands over her lap, and when she spoke it wasn’t dissimilar to a mother consoling a child over the death of a pet. 

“I learned a lot about you recently.” 

She smiled when she said this, much in the way you might think; the smile felt genuine, and lifted up the crows feet beside her eyes… but behind those eyes was a malicious glint. I didn’t respond; I wasn’t sure what to say. 

She continued, dipping a teabag into a mug as she spoke. “But there’s one thing I haven’t quite been able to put my finger on: your intentions. After all, the contents of your head don’t show up on a background check, and you’re not exactly an open book. I know everything about you… but at the same time, I don’t really know anything at all about who you really are.” 

 I wasn’t sure how to respond, and to be honest I’m not so sure I really know the answer to that question. I had a feeling that I’d eventually have to chew my own leg off if I were to get out of this trap. I cleared my throat and took a breath, my trembling voice still betraying my confident demeanor. “When I walk out of this room, are your men going to detain me?” 

She laughed. I think she’d have even blushed if she had practiced moving the blood to her cheeks beforehand. “Of course not,” she said, “You’re free to leave if you wish. You have my word that absolutely nobody wants to hurt you… or your family.” 

I sat back down, recognizing the card that she’d just played. She carried on as a sort of subtle acknowledgement at the success of her intimidation. “Like I was saying, I’d pictured you as a loner. People like us don’t generally get married or have kids or keep an average day job. People like us are married to this thing – this thing that no one else can see. When you know that there’s so much more and it’s just beneath the surface, you can’t help yourself but keep digging. Friends and family come and go, our basic needs become a lot more basic, we lose touch with everyone and everything… but not you. You’ve managed to juggle it all. Aren’t you worried that it’s not going to last? Worried that you’ll lose your grip, and by the time it all burns to ashes you won’t even be there anymore to scoop it all up? That’s what makes you so interesting Jeremy. That’s why I want to know more about you.” 

I choked a bit on my words. “It seems like you already know everything that there is to know.” 

She gave me a look that was sort of indescribable: a look that was equal parts curious and full of pity. “That’s the thing, Jeremy,” she said, “that’s not what interests me. What interests me is what’s going on inside your head.” 

I could tell that she was looking for something deeper than my personal life, but for no other reason than to talk me out of researching the papers, and put an end to all of the unintentional – but completely justified – interference I might have had with her work and Project Hydra in general. 

What I don’t understand is why neither her nor Hydra have made any other attempts at stopping me. Not that I want to give anyone any ideas, but I’m certainly not hard to get to, and there are much easier ways to do it than this less-than-persuasive way of trying to scare me off. Frankly it’s got me wondering if Project Hydra wants me to continue my work. Maybe I’m just not much of a threat, but I’ve been getting this feeling – like a balled up mass of tapeworms in my stomach – that I’m somehow helping them. That same mass in my gut told me that if I allowed it, Dr. Patel would make every attempt to carry on the burden of conversation… or rather, what felt like my interrogation. If I let her, she’d pry open my skull and carve out a section of my brain just large enough to insert herself into it, and I’d never be able to get her back out. She’d stay there forever, whispering threats and uncertainties, and everything I’d worked towards to uncover the dark and twisted world around us would remain under the veil. 

I felt naked. There was no way of knowing how much she knew about me, but I didn’t know anything about her. I wasn’t prepared for any of this, and that gave her the ultimate advantage.  I decided to take a chance.

“Do you mind if I ask you a question?”

She nodded.

“How do you know the dream killer? And what’s his connection with Project Hydra?” 

She rolled her eyes, but I’m certain it was just for show. “The dream killer – a rather unimaginative name I should add – is not quite how you imagine him to be. He’s not some rogue experiment from Project Hydra, or some kind of mystical otherworldly being, he’s a human being with a real face and real identity just like you and I. As far as I can tell, Project Hydra studied him, found that he wasn’t all that remarkable, and sent him on his way. However, this is where things get interesting: all of the records regarding him, including his identity, were stolen, and all of our backups were erased. Now you wouldn’t happen to know where exactly those records wound up would you? Certainly not in the hands of some chain-smoking emotionally-damaged nurse, right?” 

I was caught off guard. “That’s impossible, Brianne followed up on every lead we had in those medical records. There’s no way the killer was in any of them.” 

She laughed. “That’s assuming of course that those were all of them. Who’s to say she didn’t stash some of them away? After all, she doesn’t exactly remember how she obtained them.” 

Though I hate to admit it, that was a fair point. How could we ever know if that was all of the records? Dr. Patel eyed me, waiting to see if I was satisfied with that answer. 

“Now I’d like to ask you a question, Jeremy.” 

I adjusted myself in the chair. Patel’s words thus far have felt like a thorn bush: they stick to you and dig in your skin and tangle you up. I wasn’t expecting this next question to be any different, and frankly I had questions of my own, and if I didn’t give her something then I wasn’t going to get anything in return.

“Okay,” I said, “what do you want to know?”

The look on her face was venomous; it made me question whether giving her an inch was actually a good idea.

“I want to know if you think you’re helping people by doing what you do. You see, I watched you when you entered the building – or rather, I had someone else watching you – and you did something rather curious. You walked down the sidewalk, casually checking over your shoulder, maybe a bit more often then the average person would, and then you circled the building. You looked at everything around you, and you watched to make sure nobody or anything…unsightly, was following you. You’re paranoid Jeremy. People like you and I… we know what goes bump in the night; it’s a curse that we both share. People live in blissful ignorance, and the type of knowledge that we possess simply poisons that. So my question for you is: do you really think that spreading this virus of carnal knowledge is actually helping anyone, or are you just expelling them from the Garden of Eden?” 

I didn’t like where this was headed. I wanted to give her some sort of an answer to make her feel like she was gaining something from this, but this wasn’t a question I could just phone-in or answer with a simple yes or no. I had to say something or risk letting her know that she was starting to get to me. I tried to relax a bit before I spoke.

“That’s sort of a loaded question, don’t you think?” 

“No,” she chuckled, “it’s a question with context.” 

I thought about it for a minute before I replied, “The truth is… I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m even trying to help anyone. I don’t know exactly what keeps pulling me in to this stuff. I just know I’m not ready to stop.” 

“Very good,” said Dr. Patel, doing a sort of condescending golf clap with her hands. “Now it’s your turn to ask me a question.” 

She crossed her arms when she said this as if playfully preparing herself for a flurry of hard questions, but there was only one thing on my mind and it was burrowing and twisting around the inside of my head like a centipede looking for the perfect spot to sink in its mandibles and chew its way out. 

I cleared my throat. “I want to know about the daycare… the psychic kids.”

Her eyelids lifted a bit as her eyebrows raised and a sharp dimple caught the tail end of a crooked frown. 

“I don’t know anything about that,” she told me. 

I could feel a bit of anger in my chest, she had to have been lying. Not that I would’ve been surprised by her not telling me the truth about any of this. I tried my best to speak without gritting my teeth. “But you knew about it, right? It was Project Hydra experimenting on those children, wasn’t it? You experimented on Malcolm when he was a child and made him into a monster. How do I know that wasn’t your line of work?” 

Patel raised a finger to interject. She looked insulted, but I’m not sure how much of that was an act. “I studied Malcolm because he did something extraordinary and because his grandfather was a powerful psychic and magician… I never experimented on him. He drove himself mad, because of what he did. I had no idea he’d go on to do what he did and his actions certainly weren’t at the behest of Hydra. I don’t know anything about a daycare or any experiments on psychic children. I only know what I was supposed to know. Hydra didn’t go around leaking information to every single random person in the organization.” 

I was frustrated but I had to let it go. She was clearly frustrated as well, and while that might have been the key to cutting this conversation short, I’d be leaving with less information than I would’ve liked. I had to seize this opportunity, even if it was an uncomfortable one. 

“Okay, fine,” I said, “then tell me about Project Hydra.” 

She let out a sigh, followed by the type of laugh you might have given an uncle who just told you a dirty joke that you weren’t quite old enough to understand. “I thought you be more interested in SCIC.” 

I was surprised. The fact is, in some ways I’m definitely more interested in what’s going on at SCIC and if Patel is involved then that makes it all even more pressing. If I had been prepared for all of this, if I had the fortitude, if this didn’t feel like Patel was leading me towards a different path, while I desperately wanted to wrestle control…I might have followed that thread. I took a deep breath and tried to stay in focus. This was a distraction. 

“Right now I want you to tell me about Project Hydra. Tell me something I don’t already know.” 

I caught myself off guard at how quickly I’d blurted it out. I think the rage in my chest had given me a bit more confidence. A smile crept across her face like crack might spread across broken glass. “Of course,” she said, “Can I tell you a story?”

Reluctant to give up the authority I’d recently mustered in this conversation, I obliged. She took a long sip from her mug of tea, closing her eyes as she did, and when she opened them she began.

I was young… or at least much younger than I am now. The sun was still rising on my scientific career, and all around me were brilliant minds that bolstered my own: scientists with names you’d never see in the history books – even some holdovers from Operation Paperclip – that would go on to forever alter the world in ways that were never thought possible, only to end their careers in unmarked graves… forgotten to time. 

That’s how I saw myself and that’s how I approached my field of science: knowing that recognition and legacy are meaningless, forever lost in the shadow of progress. In that way we never feared the one hundred year plan, or the sacrifices we made to science, because after all, it was but a small formless piece in an infinite and ever evolving puzzle. If you want to understand this story, and more importantly if you want to understand Project Hydra, you have to understand this way of thinking. You have understand where our loyalties lay. 

At the time I worked in just one of the many locations that the project had procured at its height. We were all over the world. After all, it’d be a mistake to assume we received our funding from any one government. Hydra, in fact, predates most known governments. 

It should come as no surprise that our relationship with our predecessors wasn’t exactly mutually symbiotic. They foolishly and desperately clung to things like race and the destruction of everything that didn’t look or act like them, and that made them weak. While their fear and hatred would ultimately lead to their downfall, it also made them vulnerable to a parasite like Hydra. 

We fed from their blood and their money and their utter carelessness, and when that well ran dry we took what we wanted and left the rest to rot. We were not them, and as they were falling and scattering like the vile little roaches that they were, we were building – growing stronger and more powerful and extending our reach in to other spaces and governments. The building I was in was built during this time – a sort of golden age, if you will.

I was preparing to transfer to a different facility. A newer facility, not built off of the backs of tyrants, but instead by another arrogant and blood thirsty government. My personal effects were in boxes and my sights were set on San Diego. While I can’t tell you where I was at the time, this was certainly something I would classify as a major improvement to the quality of my life, and a testament to the efforts I’d made studying neurology on behalf of Project Hydra. 

The building was larger than you might think: nine floors of glass and concrete that sat abandoned to the naked eye – overtaken by vines and moss – starkly contrasting its sterile white interior. There were more rooms in this building than I’d ever thought to count: offices, meeting spaces, and laboratories that spanned every facet of the scientific imagination, each bustling with scientists and doctors and lab assistants. 

This particular story starts on the fifth floor of the building, following the peculiar appearance of a very strange but otherwise completely ordinary door. 

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact day that the door appeared. You’d think that a mysterious door appearing in what was previously a blank wall would draw more attention. 

I struggle to blame any one person for not noticing it at first. The building was vast and I’m certain almost nobody outside of the janitorial staff and possibly the maintenance crew could’ve told you exactly how many rooms or closets were on any given floor or where exactly they were located. I imagine even the most well functioning laboratories have some degree of complacency, and while that’s most definitely inexcusable in the event of some sort of incident such as this, it’s certainly to be expected to some degree within daily operations. 

It was actually a janitor who first discovered the door. However, while you might imagine this idea of concern or even a general sense of unease plaguing his mind, frankly he more or less forgot about it rather soon afterwards. After all, there was nothing necessarily ominous about the door; it didn’t even seem unordinary or out of place. 

The door matched the rest in the building: a wooden door, painted white and affixed with an aluminum door handle, and a foggy and rather useless pane of safety glass. If you were to jiggle the handle you’d find that the door was locked, and peeking through the glass afforded you only the blurry and distorted view of a flickering yellow fluorescent ceiling lamp. 

The janitor casually alerted maintenance of the presumably faulty lightbulb, and continued his business, skipping the room as he’d assumed there must have been a valid reason for his barred entry. 

The now-summoned member of the building’s maintenance crew felt differently, and took it upon himself to begin a crusade to find who was operating out of that room and why none of the keys on his comically large keyring would unlock it. It was only after questioning a botanist who operated from a laboratory neighboring the previously blank wall, that things got interesting. 

You see, the space behind this strange new door would’ve existed within the botanists laboratory. In fact, the botanists laboratory extended an additional six feet past the perceived space in which the room occupied. While within the context in which I’m telling you this story you can gather some rather negative connotations, to these two men this was nothing short of miraculous and fascinating. 

Somewhere in this building, some sort of scientific mishap had created what was arguably a pocket of extra-dimensional space, and these two men stood before it. Or so they thought. In a fever of arrogance brought about by childlike excitement, the two men – one a scientist and the other a lowly maintenance man – began experimenting and tinkering with the door. 

They tried knocking on it and on the surrounding walls, pushing and pulling on the handle, and even trying to pick the lock, all of which were to no avail. 

They checked security footage, looking for the day that door must have appeared. It seemed however, that according to the video, the door had been there as long as they could search back – which was years. Curiously, a set of blueprints and floor plans for the building, which I’m not sure how exactly they obtained, showed that the door and the room behind it had been planned for decades in advance. It was as if it had always been there, and they’d simply never noticed it. 

The walls of the room were drafted with dotted lines, as if the planner or the architect had planned for the room to not actually exist, or planned for the room to share its impossible dual-spacial-occupancy with the room it apparently existed inside of. Things became even more strange when the door disappeared. Had they just imagined the whole thing? Had they been mistaken or under some sort of spell the whole time? 

The two men – who had unbelievably continued to keep the impossible room a shared secret amongst themselves – checked the set of blueprints again in absolute bewilderment. The door itself was a novel case of sheer impossibility, but having it disappear completely opened up a slew of further questions, some of which now regarded their own sanity. 

However, this time the blueprints showed that the door was now on a lower floor. Unsurprisingly, after checking for themselves, the blueprints were in fact an accurate translation of the strange bit of otherworldly architecture that stood before them. It should come as no surprise that the same security footage now corroborated the idea that the door and the strange inaccessible and possibly extra-dimensional room had always been exactly where it was. 

Somehow overnight the door had moved, and everything else had changed to match it. It was only after trying the handle again and finding that it was freely moving and no longer locked, that the two men told their story and alerted higher staff. 

The first to enter the room were a pair of security guards.

Carrying riffles and clad in black tactical gear, the two men slowly entered the room. It was mostly empty, but for a set of three empty metal shelves and a large wooden desk. Upon entering, they reported nothing unusual, void for the fact that despite there being a fluorescent light on the ceiling, there was no actual switch present on any of the walls. Furthermore, there were no windows or vents in the room, and the floors sported a tile work that hadn’t been present in the building for just short of two decades. 

Interestingly, despite the appearance that this room may have been unoccupied for quite some time, at least judging by its emptiness and the white tile floors which reflected the buildings earlier years, there was not a speck of dust. No cobwebs marked the corners of the room, and by all accounts the room seemed to be sparkling clean. 

Another security guard soon followed, raising the rooms occupancy to three. When the others had deemed the room safe and made their exit, that same security guard remained behind, apt on judging the room under equal, if not more, scrutiny than his predecessors. It was at this point that I had arrived on the 4th floor to observe my own judgment and oversee any further study of the mysterious room. 

I was at the end of the hallway, still disposing of a suspicious smelling cup of coffee given to me by my assistant, when I heard the door slam shut. Audible gasps and quiet murmurs of speculation erupted as the remaining two security guards wrestled with the door handle and cursed into the personal transceivers previously affixed to their chests. 

On the other side of the door, I could hear the security guard fumbling with the door and panicking. Soon that panic escalated into manic screams for help, and then cries of absolute terror. Behind that door, the man begged for his life. His voice suggested he wasn’t clawing at the door anymore, but instead in the center of the room. 

The last sound we heard from him were screams of pain, accompanied by the sounds of tearing wet flesh and snapping bone. The glass on the door was now painted a dripping cacophony of brown and red, and blood pooled from the crack under the door. 

We stared in shock and disbelief, which believe it not were still emotions that I could’ve evoked at this earlier stage in my career. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the two remaining security guards – still waiting for backup – were the least fazed, despite personally knowing the man who was assuredly dead on the other side of that door. 

I was just as interested in those two men as I was the horror that had taken place in front of us, and so I hurriedly left the observation in the hands of another supervising member of our staff in order to interview them. I’d find out in a phone call soon afterwards, that the door had disappeared before their eyes. They blinked and it was gone. 

In most instances, we would’ve shut down the building in the event that a serious threat to life was present. However, important research can live or die in the time that it takes to address such issues, and so I was given an order from my superiors to put all witnesses on leave and to ensure that the project location was at full capacity, with the investigation remaining a secret to those not directly involved. 

We couldn’t have known at the time that the room was more autonomous than we had suspected, and as such it was quite clever and predatory. 

It was two days before the door reappeared. A laboratory assistant was making their way to a room on the eighth floor in order to access an autoclave when they were presented with two adjacent and completely identical doors. The room she was attempting to access was small, being that it was mostly used to store excess lab equipment, and it didn’t feature the large viewing and sign out window that characterized similar storage rooms. It’s rather hard to say whether it was curiosity or absent-minded complacency that caused her to open the other door and step inside. 

Her screams echoed through the hallway, and the two witnesses left trails of bloody shoeprints as they ran for help. By the time security and supervising personnel were brought in to investigate, a puddle of blood and those footprints were all that were left behind. I was made aware, and the witnesses were again put on leave, following a few neurological examinations that I was more than happy to administer.

Frustratingly, as the door vanished, the security footage was again altered to show that nothing had ever happened. We had no proof of what was happening beyond spoiled and completely ordinary blood samples. Pictures taken of the mess afterwards were also unfortunately altered. Instead showing a bare tile floor backdropped by a completely blank and unremarkable white wall. It was as if it was using any sort of documentation present to camouflage its existence. 

The fourth and final time I was made aware of the room’s sudden appearance was just a day later, as I was preparing for my departure from the facility. I discovered it on the same hallway as my personal office, as I was disposing of yet another suspiciously off-smelling cup of coffee in to the trash can. I couldn’t help but feel flattered that I was left with such a wonderful parting gift.

The door was no longer present and instead it stood as an open and welcoming cavity. A cavernous hole in the wall that resembled a rather average room, but for its flickering light and mismatched tile speckled with droplets of blood. From the room came the stink of rot. I felt as if I could feel the room’s very own hot breath bearing down on me. 

Good science often comes from an undying curiosity, and I believe that’s something that the two of us share. I told you at the beginning of this story, that we stood with no fear in our efforts and sacrifices to science. I stared down the hallway, towards the door to my office; inside, all of my things neatly packed and ready to be shipped away to another facility. I looked up at the cameras at either end of the long corridor. Soon the footage would vanish, replaced with the view of a long and empty hallway, and I was but a ghost in it. 

The light stopped flickering when I entered the room. I felt along the desk, its wood was soft and varnished, and its empty drawers were lined with velvet and slid smoothly along their tracks. I felt along the walls. The plaster felt warm,  and when I held still I could feel a sort of rhythm in them. 

“You’re beautiful,” I told the room, “and I’m ashamed that I won’t be able to learn much more about you.”

But that wasn’t true, at least not the second part. You see, I did think the room was beautiful. It was stunning; it was like a wild animal. But I was poised to learn more about it… and to repay its generosity. 

There was no denying that my assistant was jealous of my promotion within the project. After all, I was once bringing her coffee and handling her notes and appointments. That was before the higherups saw it fit that she be demoted. She was a talented neurologist and she once brought about industry leading research, and when she was brought on to the project she was seen by many as a shining beacon of hope for this department. 

However, the prospects of her work never saw fruition and over time more of her proposals were flatly denied. She was old and her research had become stagnant and redundant, and the new methodology I presented over her head saw more promise. I’d hardly call it underhanded, but what I had done led to her and I switching roles, and that had made her venomous. That poison within her soured her every intention, and as I’m sure you’ve already guessed… it made its way into my coffee. If she hadn’t been such an old fool, she might have chosen something that didn’t burn my nostrils when I smelled it. 

She’d tried for weeks to poison me, and if I had been as weak minded as her, she’d have succeeded, and I’d have been dead, and she wouldn’t have been dragged into that room. I remember her yelling and cursing at me, struggling with my arms wrapped tightly around her and pinning her arms to her chest. I can only hope she took a second to look at her ankles as they dragged across the floor, and felt weak and pathetic. 

She clattered to the floor, unsure of what my plans were. Fear danced in her eyes. If she hadn’t lay frozen for so long, soaking in shame and fear, while I backed away and out of the room, she might have gotten out before it was too late. 

Strings of yellow tinged saliva dripped from the walls as the room began to take its true shape. The sharp ninety degree corners rounded over with folds of dripping red flesh. Discarded viscera and forgotten limbs, rotting away and soaked in bile, floated up from a fleshy chasm below. Massive jagged yellow teeth pushed through from the twitching flesh above and beneath her, catching her at the waist and crushing her screaming body. Organs and limbs dangled from the mashing teeth. 

The illusion had slipped, and I was finally seeing what this beautiful wild animal really was. It was a hunter: a predator with intelligence, and I felt terrible that I wouldn’t be able to stick around and study it. A severed arm rolled from the beastly mouth and onto the floor in front of me. I tossed it back, wiping the blood and saliva across my jacket before tossing it in a nearby trash can, atop the very same discarded paper coffee cup that cowardly witch had tried to poison me with. 

I’ll never know what happened to the building, or to the room. After all the years I spent working for the Project, I was never awarded such a clearance. But what I do know is that my curiosity was satiated. I knew more about the world around us… probably more than I should.

“So if you’ll allow me to circle back a bit in our conversation Jeremy, does this not sound like you? Do the things you sacrifice and the damage that you’ve caused by doing what you do ever really eat at you? Or is it all worth it… just to satiate the curiosity that we both share?” 

I felt sick, and I quickly choked out a response. “I’m nothing like you.”

Dr. Patel laughed. “What you should understand about me, Jeremy, the lesson that you can take home to your family and your job and your podcast and your little dog is that I’m not lying to myself about what I am or what I’m doing. I have no delusion that I’m helping anyone with my work. I’m just picking at things that I don’t understand until I figure out how they work. I’m exactly like you, I just know what I am. There is something else you ought to know, Jeremy…” 

That twisted smile swept across her face and her eyes lit up. “I thought it was beautiful watching her body bend and fold while she was being mashed up by those teeth.”

I felt sick. I couldn’t tell if she meant it, or if it was just another thinly veiled threat. Either way I was done; I was done being intimidated, done being manipulated, and done being compared to a monster like her. Most of all I was done hearing her try to shoehorn in my personal life and dangle it above my head. I gathered my bearings and got up to leave.

Before I reached the door, she said, “You’re looking rather pale lately, Jeremy. You should really take better care of yourself.”

How did she… I resumed my pace toward the door when one of the men armed with an assault rifle entered the doorway to block my exit.

“Oh, and Jeremy,” she chuckled, “Malcolm’s been asking a lot about you. He wants you to let me know when you’re ready to talk. I’ll be in touch.” 

She motioned with her hand casually, as if shooing away a fly, and the guard let me out.

The Shepherds – Season 3 Episode 16

See Content Warnings
Mention of child experimentation and assassination
Need to skip this episode? Click here to see the plot.
Jeremy has noticed either a letter M or S in the medical files and reaches out to 4thTrumpet to see what it means. 4thTrumpet puts him in contact with a mystery individual via a letter dead dropped into his mailbox.

The letter explains that, while the individual is uncertain was “M” means, both M and S are classes of something called Monitors which are people with psychic abilities, as denoted by SCIC. Monitors would originally monitor individual’s dreams via a psychic connection. When enhanced with a drug, they were able to do more. The S stands for Shepherds, and Shepherds cannot only manifest things in peoples’ dreams, but can pull things from the dreams into the physical world.

Jeremy learns that he has been assigned a Monitor by SCIC, and he suspects Brianne may be a Shepherd.

Back in October, two thousand twenty, I had looked through the papers enough to find some patterns and I’ve shared some of those with you already, but there were still some elements that remain a bit perplexing to me, and I reached out for some help.  You are all aware that there are symbols that exist on many of the documents within these files I have, and my best guess is that each symbol corresponds to some kind of branch of Hydra, or a specific research area.  

I’m still digging more into that, but at the same time, I noticed something else.  Remember that flash drive that Brianne had, and that the Grinner so badly wanted?  You know, the one with all of the medical files on it?  I’ve been racking my brain to figure out why.  There must be a reason for all of this, and it’s a pattern I continue to see as I peruse through those medical records looking for something to click.  Well, there seems to be an underscore after each medical record number that each folder contains, followed by one of two letters:  either “M” or “S.”  I’ve consulted with someone I trust in the medical field… in fact, I was able to consult someone that works at one of the hospitals specifically mentioned within those medical records, and they don’t have an explanation for me.  According to them, all medical record numbers are ten digits, and do not include any letters from the alphabet.  Just numbers.

For that reason, I decided to reach out to 4thTrumpet on Twitter with a DM.  Now, I’m still not quite sure how much credence to lend this person.  I don’t know who they are or what percentage of their previous claims about specific aspects of the papers have any merit.  But I’m hitting a dead end as far as I can tell.  Of course, I’m only scratching the surface with the papers in being able to organize them, but I’m really not anywhere close to knowing all of their contents enough to make some of these connections.

So, I simply asked, “Do the letters ‘M’ or ‘S’ in reference to medical records indicate anything to you?”

I waited a couple of days for a response, which was kind of irregular, since all prior interchanges were within a period of minutes.  At first, I was a little concerned, but he (assuming it’s a he) explained, “I’m afraid this is beyond my current level of knowledge, but there’s someone I might know who can shed some light on this for you.  Give me a couple more days to get back to you.”

I thanked him, and went about my normal research for several days.  I had just about forgotten I had asked him a question when I received another DM.  It said, “Sorry it took so long.  It was tougher than I thought it would be.  Check your physical mailbox.  There, you’ll find an envelope with just your first name typed on the front, and on the back, you’ll notice a stamp with a symbol you should be familiar with by now.  You’ll be exercising a certain level of ambiguity and trust in reading this envelope’s contents, but as I said before, I am not privy to all of the plans of Hydra or its subsidiaries.  Though I am highly curious about the envelope’s contents, so I’ll be listening to your podcast.”  

A quick trip to my mailbox revealed the envelope.  My name was handwritten on the front, and on the reverse, a stamp of a seven-fingered hand with an eye in the palm was placed across the seal of the envelope.  

Once back in my home, I made sure my shutters were drawn on my windows and I sat down on my couch to open the envelope.  For some reason, I hesitated.  The realization that someone I don’t know (other than 4thTrumpet, who I still don’t really know), hand-delivering me a letter to my mailbox.  This person knows where I live, and likely knows what I’m involved in.  Additionally, the actual act of ensuring that nobody could see inside my home from the outside seemed to give me pause.  Am I really wrapped up in something so complex?  If so, is it such a great idea to be sharing all of this stuff publicly on a podcast, freely available to anyone who wants to listen?  The moment, as surreal as it felt, was fleeting, but it caused me to question whether or not it’s actually safe to be doing this whole thing.  I suppose it’s too late now.

I unsealed the envelope and peered inside.  From within it, I pulled out several folded pages of paper that looked like they were about six inch by nine inch in size.  I’d like to address all of the listeners at this point before sharing any of the contents of this letter.  While I do wish to be as transparent as possible here on the podcast, I am going to be withholding some of the information contained within this letter as I fear it could jeopardize my own safety and the safety of my family.  But this much I can share with you.

Good day, Sir!  A colleague of mine tells me you’ve stumbled upon some documents or files that possess some letters that you’ve been inquiring about.  I apologize for the delayed response, but as you well know, I must take precautions when collaborating on such things so that I don’t become suspect myself.  

It took a while to accomplish, but I required your full name from my colleague, and our methods of private communication are somewhat inefficient within the confines of SCIC.  Once I had it though, I spent some time looking into our records for any matching correspondence.  Having done so, there are aspects of your records that I cannot access currently, but from the looks of things, you may well be in over your head at this point.  I’m not sure you realize the implications of what you’re doing there with your little podcast.  That said, I can’t say I wouldn’t be willing to put myself out there like that if I were in your shoes.  It might even be beneficial by offering some level of protection.  You’re still alive, so I suppose that could be the case.  But please, be careful what you share going forward.

First things first!  You were inquiring about the letters “M” and “S” in reference to some medical documents you say you’ve happened upon.  The fact that those documents are available to you means one of two things.  Either you have found a way past SCIC file encryption yourself, or someone else did prior to them coming into your possession.  I’m curious… have you found a way to access all of the files yet?  If so, perhaps we can find a mutually beneficial way to help one another.

But I digress.  Let me at last get to the point.  The letter “M” is a label that I’ve seen many times before, but even back then, I wasn’t part of that side of the project.  I know it went hand-in-hand with my side though, which involved the “S.”  The “S” indicates that the patient is a “Shepherd.”  The master folder containing all of those patients’ files should possess the symbol of a seven-fingered hand with an eye in the palm.  All of these designations were created by the Hydra team far before their solicitation of services from SCIC.  I highly suggest you read up on these from within the documents in your possession so you know what to look out for.  I’ll explain more about that in a moment.

The term, “Shepherd,” as I understand it, was originally created to classify patients’ levels of psychic ability within a sleep state, specifically during the Rapid Eye Movement stage when dreams occur.  You may or may not know, based on the documents in your possessions… the “Papers” as you call them, that Projekt Hydra has long been experimenting with drugs that enhance one’s ability to stay within REM sleep for longer periods of time.  These experiments are even sometimes conducted outside of the subjects’ knowledge during clinical trials, much like the MK Ultra Project.  I find this highly unethical, of course, which is why I’m happy to share some of my knowledge with you.  These drugs have multiple applications depending on the recipient.

The Shepherds have the ability to observe and interact with people inside their dreams during REM sleep.  It’s an inherent ability, as Hydra learned in the early days of the project.  This can be an act as harmless as one of them saying hello to the dreamer, or it can be used to implant ideas into the dreamer’s mind.  We call this process “monitoring” and the people who do it were originally referred to as “Monitors.”  I worked directly with the Monitors during the Cold War as part of an intelligence initiative, and continue to focus on that area today.

But, once Hydra began conducting the drug experiments, their subjects began displaying certain abilities that required them to separate the Monitors into two categories.  Along with that split, they also split our team.  One of the Monitor groups was whatever the “M” means, but the others were the “S” group, which stood for the Shepherds; the group I was directly working with.  My guess is you have a reference to what the “M” stands for somewhere in your papers… otherwise you’ll need to find a way to view those password-protected files on your flash drive.

I just don’t know the full details of those distinguishing factors, but I’ve always wondered.  Eventually, the Monitors began to hone those skills and develop new ones with the aid of these experimental drugs.  You see, they’d start to create people, animals, and things you might consider scary like ghosts and monsters within the dreams.  The Monitors would have debriefings after experiments where a Hydra technician would interview them about the dreams, and a dictation would occur to record and chart progress on their abilities.  

This happened for several years before the Shepherds were distinguished as a sub-class of Monitor, to which I was assigned.  But they knew they’d lost control of the project when local news reports started turning strange.  The people who were being monitored, the dreamers, started turning up dead.  Occasional witnesses were found that the public ridiculed.  Stories of winged creatures, demons, and all kinds of things that go bump in the night became common.  It went several months before anyone from Hydra saw the correlation between those witness accounts and the debriefing documents from the Monitors.  You see, the Monitors weren’t just creating these things in peoples’ dreams as they originally intended… they would actually manifest themselves in the physical world as well.  We weren’t completely sure when or how it started. 

It was nearly a year after this realization that the Shepherds’ abilities were distinguished.  It went under the radar for so long, it’s a wonder they ever learned what was happening.  They all assumed the Shepherds had the ability to bring fictitious entities from dreams… people or other horrific and unimaginable things… until they managed to apprehend one of them.  

Few of us have the clearance required to identify the individual, but we do know that person claimed they were transported from another reality into this one and as a result, those areas of research became even more compartmentalized and required a higher security clearance to be informed about.  Best guesses by Hydra’s top scientific minds revolve around String Theory.  That is, the idea that these beings weren’t necessarily being created from the Shepherds’ imaginations.  They actually brought them from a parallel dimension of existence, if you will, into our own.  

Just think about all this implies for a moment.  If this is actually possible for the Shepherds, and I believe it is, at what point would you consider their presence in our own dimension paradoxical?  Or do paradoxes even exist?  I’ve listened to some of your podcast, and I recognize an element of familiarity in many of those documents.  While there’s a lot you’re sharing that I can’t account for, there are some definite overtones that could likely be from a Shepherd.  And I’m willing to put money on it that whatever the “M” stands for may account for some others.

Either way, these abilities had implications much more widespread than just espionage.  The way I understand it, the experiments required closer supervision and tighter security because whoever is in control of these Shepherds could have tremendous power.  This bears keeping in mind that for the average person, who is not a Shepherd, prolonging the dream state with their experimental drugs simply creates more opportunity for Shepherds to do what they do best.  And that is to take what is in your dreams and make it real.  

All possibilities aside, I’m sorry to inform you that you have been assigned a Monitor.  While I can’t claim to know the reason which applies to you specifically, there are only three reasons Hydra would assign a Monitor to you, at least that I’m aware of.

  1. They just want to observe you to see how much you know.
  2. They could be assessing you to see if you could be one of them.  A Shepherd yourself, perhaps.  And for that, they would need to have pretty significant knowledge of your background or have you under observation for a while.
  3. And I truly hope this isn’t the case for you, but they could be planning to eliminate you.  It’s been done before.

I do know that Monitors can sit in a dark corner of your dreams undetected, or even potentially be interacting with you without your knowledge… if you don’t know what to look for.  They can also mimic any person or thing that is within your dream, but they’re always “off” somehow.  They can easily seem out of place.  You might notice an unusual feature, or they might walk strangely.  For this reason, they attempt to avoid using recurring dream characters in those they are monitoring, but they have to be lingering in your dreams for a while before they’ll know how to do that, so often they wait, undetected, just observing, before deciding to interact with you.  Of course, different Monitors have varying levels of skill.

You need to develop the ability to identify them, and that starts with a lot of practice.  Everyone can do it, but it can be difficult to learn.  You recently spoke of a dream where you realized within the dream that you could control what was happening.  You need to intentionally practice this.  Once you reach this state of awareness, make a point to throw some changes into your dream to see if anyone or anything looks out of place.  As an example, consider that you’re dreaming that you’re watching a parade.  As the marching band goes by, you simply make the band instantly turn around and begin marching in the wrong direction, against parade traffic.  If your Monitor is there, they won’t be able to predict this sudden change, and they’ll be the only one who didn’t turn around.  That is, if that monitor is in the band.  They can be anywhere in your dreams though, and they’re difficult to spot.  The more skilled they are, the harder it will be for you to detect them. Most have been trained in evasion techniques, so you’ll need to think outside the box and get creative in order to spot the good ones.

I would highly suggest that you, if you have the ability that is, get your boy Nicholson’s help.  I worked with Preston in the beginning, and he’s incredibly gifted.  I always suspected he was a bit more that they gave him credit for, but that’s neither here nor there.  

I should mention that I don’t offer this kind of information for free, but our mutual acquaintance has guaranteed me that should you find evidence within your papers to indicate more current research being done on the subject, that you’d share it with me.  All you have to do is let them know, and they’ll arrange a way to get me that information.  It should be readily available once you unlock those files on your flash drive, but in the meantime, anything that has the seven-fingered hand with the eye on the palm is a good place to start.

I’ve attached some additional documents with specific details about what I’m looking for.  To be clear, you do not have my permission to share those on your podcast.  I suggest you make haste because once you are assigned a Monitor, very little that you do will be private.  My guess is they’ve already taken steps to infiltrate your life in ways you don’t currently know about.  

This is the last and only piece of hand-written communication you’ll be receiving from me.  I can’t risk the same delivery method for communication twice, so the next time I reach out, you’ll understand if I apply an increased level of caution, even though it will be hidden in plain sight.  Your listeners may enjoy this, and they may even be able to help… don’t ever under-estimate the intelligence of your listeners.  By now you must know that people who both support and oppose your show are keeping tabs on it.  Just keep on the lookout for a very obvious change to something both you and your listeners have access to.  Heck, it might even help you practice finding things that are slightly out of the ordinary, much like how you would identify a Monitor.  But of course, you’ll be awake.  Until then, I hope you’ll find something for me soon.

The letter wasn’t signed, but I’ve read it to you in its entirety.  I’m not sure what they mean by relaying messages the way they explained it.  Listeners might enjoy it, or be able to help.  It will be in plain sight.  And it will be slightly out of the ordinary.  In all honesty, I’m intrigued, but I’m way too tired right now to go looking for that kind of thing.  I only hope I can recognize it when it happens.  Something about the way the letter was written seemed… familiar somehow.  Maybe it’s just a pattern of speech or the way things were phrased.  I can’t put my finger on what it is exactly, but it’s going to drive me nuts if I can’t figure it out.

Anyways, all of this has me wondering how true everything this person is telling me could be.  If there’s any accuracy to it, I’d be that the person going around and killing people in their dreams is likely one of these “Shepherds.”  It would explain a lot… although I’d still like to know what the “M” stands for.  Regardless though, I wonder if Brianne has heard of this before or given it any thought.  She may just be a Shepherd too.

I’m extremely concerned about this Monitor and what they’d be doing in my dreams.  I can’t recall anything out of the ordinary in my dreams recently, but then again, I don’t always remember my dreams.  I’ll need to stay on the lookout.  Why would anyone be interested in me though?  Am I sharing information that I shouldn’t be?  I suppose that thought has crossed my mind a few times.  I also take comfort in knowing that the more people there are listening to this, the more internet sleuths may actually be able to help out should anything happen to me.  In some ways, I think this podcast offers a certain degree of protection.  In others, I think it has a tendency to put me in danger.  Hopefully the former will save me from any real danger.

The Third Subject – Season 3 Episode 15

See Content Warnings
General horror, experimentation on children, involuntary medical operations, rodent death
Need to skip this episode? Click here to see the plot.
The story is told from four perspectives: a (Hydra) doctor conducting the experiment on children, and three children, two of who are brother and sister, and suspected to be Benjamin and Brianne Scanlon. The third subject is unidentified, but is revealed to be unable to sleep. The scientists believe he is very powerful.

Each of the children can communicate with each other telepathically, and share dreams. In their dreams they go to a long, circled hallway with windows on either side. One side contains a dark mist, and the other has windows to things which the sister can pull things from so they can play with them.

The sister breaks the glass and the Licker is on the other side. After that, it is able to enter their world.

This week I’m exploring a few different documents that weren’t grouped together. As I read them, I realized they almost certainly belonged together. I was surprised at first that Ron could have missed the connection, but I suppose when you’re sorting through such a massive collection, mistakes can be made and pieces of the puzzle overlooked. Then again, with what I’ve learned about Ron, maybe he had a reason to keep these separate.

Whatever the case, I’ve brought together three different journals for today’s episode. I’ll read them in what I believe to be chronological order. The first journal is held together with a binder clip and contained in a folder with a now familiar emblem on it: a hand with seven digits that has an eye in its palm. There are parts of the journal that are redacted, including the entirety of the first page. The only information outside of what I’m about to read is the unredacted portion of a date: nineteen ninety-five.

Three more subjects went through the intake process today. Their files indicate that two of them are siblings – merely a year apart – while the third was born on the exact same date of the girl. This is exciting as we haven’t had siblings here in some time now, especially not ones so close in age, and they tend to have unique traits in my division. The fact that the other one was born on the same date means that this could be a true triumvirate in this arena. I don’t know exactly what has been done in other divisions – and I assume they’ve already been through a few different ones given their age – I can only hope nothing we need has been… damaged. That’s been a problem lately.

Still, the initial evaluations are looking good. They responded well to the sensitivity testing. To say that the possibilities are endless… well, I’m not even sure that’s an understatement. They were each given [redacted] and will share a room for the night so that it takes full effect. Tomorrow, we’ll begin the [redacted] test first thing and they’ll remain separated at night in the [redacted] rooms so that they’ll each be adjacent, per standard protocol. My next update will have the results of [redacted] tomorrow night.

The first paragraph of the next page is redacted, and the second paragraph only has a few words visible which, when combined, make no sense. It’s basically a handful of “and’s” and “but’s”. We’ll pick up from the third paragraph.

So far the brother and the sister have been very responsive. The third subject, [redacted], has been somewhat erratic. What’s interesting is viewing the effect the sister has on him when they’re in close proximity. We’ve seen similar effects when they share birthdays before, but it’s extremely pronounced in this case.

When they were all given [redacted] after breakfast, there were no immediate effects seen between the siblings. It wasn’t until we conducted the [redacted] test just before lunch that we saw the impact it had on them. However, when the third subject went through the same process, the glass that held his water shattered where it sat on the countertop.

At three o’clock, they were all once again given the next dose of [redacted]. This time the brother and sister were given their doses ten minutes apart and in separate rooms, but they each began to say the same words at the same time. We asked the brother how he liked his lunch, and both of them answered that the chicken was too salty. I was with the sister at the time and was quite confused, but it made sense once I reviewed the brother’s Q and A session.

When the third subject was given his dose, nothing extraordinary appeared to happen. It wasn’t until just before typing this that I learned that, at that exact time, three of the mice kept in the laboratory next door to Testing Room C stopped moving. Over the next half hour, something started to ooze out of their ears. An autopsy of the mice determined that their brains had melted.

The readings from the implants on the siblings were incredible and showed a steady increase. The readings from the third subject, however… it appears his abilities are tied to other chemicals in his body such as adrenaline, dopamine, and epinephrine. Over the course of the first day, small things occurred whenever the third subject was around the sister like papers shuffling by themselves or a pen falling to the floor. By dinnertime, however, as the sister and the third subject got to know each other more, it seemed she had a positive effect on his chemistry. The final test today after dinner was markedly better when the three of them were in the same room.

They’ve each been given a ream of paper and crayons with directions to write and draw the things in their dreams. At exactly one A.M., we’ll begin Phase Two.

The other journals are written in crayon. While what I read never referred to the “subjects” as children, it’s very obvious based on the handwriting that they’re no more than maybe nine or ten years old. I’ll start with the one written in blue crayon first. It looks like they each only had one color crayon, so all the blue ones are from the brother.

I don’t like this class. The food tastes funny and there aren’t any games other than some cards and they aren’t even normal cards, they all just have pictures on them. We tried to make a game out of them but it didn’t make sense and I think the other boy was cheating.

Ms. [redacted] says I have to write about my dreams. She said I might have a bunch of them, but I only had one. It was a fun one. I got to run around in a place with a bunch of windows. It had those long light bulbs on the ceiling like they have in the Testing Room. It was dark outside so I couldn’t see through any of the windows, but me and my sister played tag for like an hour or something. I hope we get to play tag today. Maybe the other boy will play, too. None of the other kids act like they want to play at all. Some of them just stare at the wall all day.

The next journal is written in red crayon and looks like it’s from the sister.

Ms. [redacted] says I have to write about my dream. I don’t want to. I feel funny this morning. My neck hurts. Benny says it’s normal that we can’t remember how we got here. He said it happens every few months. But I don’t like it. I think this is the dream. At least I can draw.

There’s a few papers with crude drawings made in red crayon. Taking some interpretive liberties, I’ll try to describe it. It has two stick figures, one with long hair, standing in… I think it’s a hallway. It has a bunch of rectangles on the side. The same scene looks to be depicted in the different drawings. I think the sister is drawing what her brother, “Benny”, described from his dream – a place with a lot of windows where the two of them are playing tag.

The next entry is another update from the staff’s journal.

I’ll be the first to admit I was surprised that the siblings are already able to share a dream state. After reviewing their dream journals, I made an effort to ensure the sister and the third subject were kept in closer proximity today. Aside from the impact she has on his brain chemistry and thus his abilities, I’m immensely curious if we’ll be able to focus their energies in a way that has only been seen once before, and this time the [redacted] has been more finely tuned and I’m confident will be ready for demonstration when-

The rest of the page is redacted and, based on the page numbers at the bottom, the next several pages are missing. I’ll skip to the children’s journals. Benny, the brother, is first.

Ms. [redacted] said I had to do some tests by myself today. It wasn’t too bad though, ‘cause I could still talk to my sister. I don’t think they could tell. She said the boy is nice and we should play tag with him. I think we had the same dream the other night. Maybe that’s how we can all play.

Last night I was in the place with all the windows again. I tried to look in some of them but it was too dark still. I walked around while my sister tried to look. That’s when I realized the whole place was a big circle with big windows on both sides, ‘cause I came back around to her and she was still looking out the window. We didn’t play tag. She said she was too sad. I asked her why but she wouldn’t tell me.

The next entry is in red crayon, from the sister.

I still don’t like it here but at least me and Benny can talk even when we aren’t by each other. I think the other boy knows, ‘cause Benny told me a joke and he was smiling even before he saw me giggling.

Last night me and Benny were in the same place again. Benny said the whole place is a big circle. That’s weird. He said that he can’t see out any of the windows. I can, though. Every window on the outside wall has a different picture. It’s like watching a movie. A bunch of movies. There’s a bunch of people and when I touch the window I can hear them talking, even when they aren’t talking out loud. Some of them were nice but some were mean and yelled a lot.

The windows on the inside wall were harder to see through. It was dark and they were all wet on the other side. I saw a gray cloud in the middle. I think there were people in there too but it was too hard to see. I couldn’t hear anything when I touched the windows.

I looked around and Benny was gone, so I went to a different window on the outside again. There was a lady watching TV. I touched the window but I couldn’t hear the TV. I couldn’t hear the lady either. Other people were talking. They were saying mean things to her. It felt bad. When I looked long enough, I saw them. They were people walking around her, all dressed up. They were poking her and sticking needles in her. One of them slapped her. She didn’t see them, though. Then they left.

She got up and grabbed a knife. She started stabbing her walls and blood came out of the walls. Then she looked at me. It scared me. She walked up to the window and started to stab the window. The glass started to crack. I thought she was going to get inside.

Benny didn’t see any of it. He asked me if I wanted to play tag and I told him I was sad, but I lied. I was scared.

The next page is still from the sister, but it’s from what I believe to be the next day.

I don’t know why Benny can’t see everything I do when we dream. I asked the boy about it. He said I can’t see everything either. I asked what I can’t see. He said he is there too. So last night I tried to see him. Benny asked what I was doing and I said I was trying to find the boy. He said he would help. He grabbed my hand and we started walking around the big circle of windows. Then Benny said to stop. He heard a noise. We walked up to the inside windows and touched them. I could see him!

I was happy I could see him, but he didn’t look happy. He looked scared. He was on the other side of the window and was hitting it. That’s the noise I heard. I asked him what was wrong but he just kept hitting the window and looking behind him at the cloud. I couldn’t see what he was looking at. Benny couldn’t either. I think he wanted to be with us. Benny and I closed our eyes and the boy was inside with us when we opened our eyes back up.

I asked the boy why he was scared but he didn’t say anything. We just played tag.

There are some more drawings. This may just be conjecture on my part, but I think the children may have been too scared to write down their dreams for a while. The pictures just show different things that they saw in their dreams: stick figures through windows and a big circle with rectangles that I think are supposed to be windows. There’s a few that are just a big scribbled mass inside of a square. I’m guessing that’s the cloud she was talking about. The next page I’ll read is from the staff member.

The three of them have now shared a dream state for multiple nights, which means Phase Three will begin tonight. The [redacted] device has already been successfully visualizing their dreams individually, but tonight we’ll begin the three dimensional depiction using their combined perspectives, which will be a first – once successful, of course.

The [redacted] test results from the three of them are rivaling any other subjects we’ve had in the [redacted] Division. I believe the more intertwined their minds become – both conscious and unconscious – the greater the likelihood that we will be able to-

The remainder of the entry is completely redacted. The next entry is in blue, from Benny.

Now that the three of us can play at night, this place isn’t as bad. We can all talk even when we aren’t with each other so the tests aren’t as boring. I have to be careful, though, ‘cause I told them in my head that one of the doctors keeps whistling with his nose. The boy said back that he thinks that the doctor’s nose is louder than his farts. I laughed and the doctor asked why I was laughing. I tried to lie but he made me tell him. I don’t know how. But he didn’t like it.

I don’t want to write about my dreams anymore. We play games, but sometimes there are things there that I don’t like.

Although Benny is reluctant to write about his dreams, his sister shed more light on them.

Last night was fun at first. We played tag for a while and the boy showed me how to pull some things out of some of the outside windows so we could have more stuff to play with. I asked him why he had been scared when he was outside the window since he can pull stuff through the windows. He said the inside windows are different. I asked how but he didn’t answer and wouldn’t even look at the inside windows. Then Benny and him started building a fort with the stuff we pulled through the outside windows.

I wanted a doll to bring into the fort because I never had one before. I walked around and around but I didn’t see one. I looked at the inside window instead and tried to see what the boy was talking about. They were always wet on the other side. I wondered if the cloud rained on them. I tried to look inside the cloud. It looked like something was inside of it, but I couldn’t see it.

My nose left a mark that looked funny. It made me laugh. I pushed my face against the window again and stuck my tongue out. That’s when I saw it. I fell backwards. It was the thing that the boy was scared of. It stared at me. It felt like I couldn’t move. It stuck out its tongue and dragged it across the window. That’s why the other side of the window was wet. It had been there the whole time, licking the window and watching us. That’s why the boy wouldn’t look at the inside windows.

The boy yelled at me. I don’t know what he said. It was hard to think when I looked at the thing in the window. The boy and my brother ran over and dragged me away from the window. They pulled me into their fort. The boy told us to be quiet. I heard glass explode and it got darker. More glass exploded. I looked out and saw every light bulb was blowing up. The glass didn’t fall all the way to the ground. It all stopped in mid-air.

I looked at the boy and Benny and they both looked scared. It was really quiet. Then I heard it licking the window right by our fort. I wanted to cry but Benny told me I can’t. The boy looked outside the fort and then ducked back down. I asked him what was out there. He didn’t say, so I looked out. There were a bunch of them in the windows and they were all looking at me and their tongues were out and they were licking the windows.

They knew we were in the fort. I screamed and told Benny that we have to run. We ran and I pulled things in from the outside windows to hide, but they kept finding us. Every time I looked at the window, there was one staring at me and licking. Its drool was thick and gross and dripped down the window every time it licked.

I was really scared and I wanted to wake up. The dream wasn’t fun anymore. I told Benny and the boy I wanted to wake up and we all tried but we couldn’t, not when the things were in the windows. I kept closing my eyes and covering my ears so I couldn’t hear them but I could still hear their tongues slide up and down the glass.

I banged on the window to get it to stop but it didn’t. I think it was smiling. I backed away with my hands over my ears until I was up against the outside window. Then I heard a tapping behind me. I turned around and it was there. It stared at me with its tongue out. Licking. Tapping its finger. It tapped faster and faster and harder and harder. I screamed. I kept screaming. I didn’t stop until the outside window in front of me shattered and it was just black.

The boy told me I shouldn’t have done that.

The staff seemed to have trouble in their next entry. While the past ones have seemed to contain an almost cruel excitement, this one comes off to me as being almost worried.

There was an anomaly last night. The [redacted] device had to be shut off. When I tried to review the data from it again today, I found that my access had been revoked which is… infuriating. I practically designed the thing and they decided I can’t be trusted. How could I have known what they would be capable of doing? It wasn’t supposed to be possible.

After the alarms went off, I spent the rest of the night on phone calls as they “had to clean up my mess”. It’s like they don’t even understand what I’m working on here. I can put these three in the same program I have the rest of the subjects, but they’re capable of so much more!

If these abilities they display can be harnessed and studied, who knows what the possibilities could be? The only thing that changing their routine now will do is alert them to their potential in a method I can’t control. The danger in this can’t be understated. Tonight, I have set traps for-

The remainder is once again redacted. I couldn’t find any further entries in blue or red, but I did come across this one in green crayon after I’d recorded most of this episode. I know I said there were three journals, but after I read through this, I think it might be from the third subject – the other boy involved. It’s mostly drawings, some random lines, and a bunch of scribbles. There may have originally been more for all I know, but there’s only a couple actual written entries that I could find.

I hate it here. I don’t think the brother and sister like me. Maybe the sister. They all think I sleep, but I don’t. I get enough rest in their heads. Tonight they aren’t sleeping, though. I told her not to break the window. It’s outside our rooms. It’s not walking. There aren’t any footsteps. It’s just licking.

If she hadn’t pulled me inside they would have got me. I don’t think it matters, though. It’s here. This isn’t a dream.

I can see its shadow from the light under the door. I think it knows I’m in here. I think it knows I’m the one that got away from it. It’s tapping on my door now.

I asked the brother and sister if they heard it. The brother told me he did. As soon as he said that in my head, it went to his door and started tapping. The brother told the sister not to say anything in our heads because it could hear us, too. I told the brother to stop talking. It came back to my door. It started to wiggle my door handle. My door doesn’t have a lock on the inside, so I grabbed it to make sure it couldn’t open the door. It was really strong and I couldn’t keep it out. The door started to creak open and its tongue slid through the crack. Thick drops of saliva dripped onto the ground by my foot. 

Somewhere outside our rooms a siren went off. It disappeared almost right away and I could finally shut my door.

There’s only one last page in the collection I’ve hobbled together and it’s from the third child. The green crayon continues in a short entry.

They took the brother and sister away today. I hate them for that. They won’t even remember me.

They keep trying to put me to sleep but it doesn’t work. I just close my eyes and watch them from up top. They’ve been cutting into me and stitching me back up and I think they’re going to keep doing it for a long time. I look weird inside. They can’t find what they’re looking for. Every time they pull something out of me or put something into me, they always seem like it will fix something, but they know they’re wrong. I can hear it. They say they’re making me better with their loud words, but their quiet words say they’re scared of me they’re trying to make themselves stronger than me.

I don’t feel strong. I don’t understand what they see. I don’t understand why they’re scared. Maybe I should be scared of me.

This is clearly further evidence of Hydra experimenting on children. I hate to read stuff like this and I wish I didn’t have to. But now, given the year, the handwriting, the vocabulary… I can’t help but think that this is even more important than before. I think that Benny, the brother… it might have been Benjamin Scanlon. Brianne said she remembered being subjected to unusual tests as a child… I can’t help but wonder if I’m reading her journals through a part of that testing.

The third subject, the boy… I wonder what became of him. It sounds like he was able to enter the dreams of others while being incapable of sleeping himself. If Hydra kept him there, experimenting on him while he watched, basically torturing him through his entire childhood and he remembers it all… I can only pray that he hasn’t grown up to be the monster Hydra thought he was.

Who knew that the realization of the Licker freely roaming into our world out of their shared nightmare wouldn’t even be the most concerning thing to me out of all this.

Keep your windows closed and locked tonight. Thanks for listening.

A Mysterious Man on a Cruise Ship – Season 3 Episode 14

See Content Warnings
General horror, suicide/suicidal ideation, alcohol, tobacco use. If you, or someone you know needs help, call 800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
Need to skip this episode? Click here to see the plot.
Brianne sends Jeremy an email of re-scanned documents from a box of files he’d lent her. There are two documents. The first recounts a story from Tyler who works on a cruise ship. One night on the cruise, he meets a man who knows all of Tyler’s memories. The man hands him an envelope, then they part ways at sunrise.

After leaving the cruise ship and moving back home, he reads the letter and finds out that the man was being hunted in his sleep by a man in a khaki suit and his dreams were blending and overlapping with reality. The man in the khaki suit said that the man from the cruise had forgotten them all and what had been done to them.

The man from the cruise had flashbacks to being in a room with a two-way mirror on one wall, with the words “You are not a psychic” written on the other wall. He thinks it may have been a place he was at as a child. The man from the cruise then indicates that the night he shared with Tyler was to be his last night on earth.

A couple of weeks ago I lent Brianne a couple of boxes. Inside of those boxes, as I’m sure you can probably guess, were some of the documents that we all now refer to as ‘The Storage Papers’. I was hesitant at first. I’m not sure if I just have a death grip on this stuff and I’m scared of losing any of it, or if I was worried that Brianne might unearth some trouble for herself in those documents and I’d be to blame for letting her hold on to them. I guess if I’m being honest with myself, it was likely a bit of both.

Nevertheless, I handed her a couple of boxes; sealed at the top with their folded cardboard flaps, soft and bowing at the bottom from the weight of their contents. While I certainly needed the help with research, I was reluctant to think she would find anything relevant. I’m confident in her research abilities, but I’m certainly not confident with Ron’s organization. Deep in this treasure trove of forbidden information, there are a lot of inane things. It’s not uncommon to find a box that’s more or less… junk. I’ve found old wallets, more than one misplaced social security card, and plenty of random bits of junk mail and bills. 

This wasn’t the first time Brianne had helped me with research, but it was the first time either of us were looking for something so specific, and if I wasn’t having much luck, I couldn’t imagine she would have it any better. This is all to say it was a crap-shoot, but I’m sure you’re well aware I wouldn’t be telling you any of this if Brianne didn’t find something worth sharing. 

I was kind of caught off guard when she sent me an email with a series of scanned documents. It was followed by a quick phone call.

Phone ringing.

BRIANNE: So, did you get my email?

JEREMY: Yeah… so what exactly am I looking at here?

BRIANNE: You just… you gotta take a look at it. Trust me, it gets pretty weird.

JEREMY: Sure. Yeah. Um, let me just put on a pot of coffee and I’ll take a look.

BRIANNE: Are you doing alright, Jeremy?

JEREMY: Yeah… the real question is, how are you doing?

BRIANNE: Well… the dreams have been a lot less frequent.

JEREMY: Think he’s letting up?

BRIANNE: More like… gunning for someone else.

The first set of pages were most definitely written on a computer. The words were a bit grainy, the type of thing that tells you that these pages were printed out and photocopied a few times before they made it to my desk. You might think I’m sorting through ancient scrolls and lost, forgotten leather-bound diaries, but the truth is most of this stuff looks like it could have been dredged from the dumpster of a call center. 

The second set of pages were hand written, still suffering from the same defects as the former, only much less legible. I can’t be entirely sure of the documents origin, only that according to Brianne they were paper-clipped together with a sticky note on the front page with the name ‘Tyler’ on it. Brianne was pretty certain that the handwriting on the sticky note was Ron’s, and frankly I don’t see why it would’ve been anyone else’s.

I was a bit skeptical at first, as the first page reads more like rambling than a report of any sort of incident, but after reading it to the end, I couldn’t help but find some commonalities between Tyler’s story and the events unfolding right now. I’m not sure if any of it points us in the direction of the killer, but I do have some thoughts and observations. However, I’d like to save those until the end of the episode where they’ll have a little more context. Until then, I hope you’ll stick around to hear a story about a mysterious man on a cruise ship.

I guess you’d probably expect me to open this story by saying that I’d always dreamed of sailing the open seas, but that would probably be a lie. My dreams of that were dashed upon the rocks at a young age when I’d learned that I would likely never be a pirate. I never figured I’d grow up to be a bartender on a cruise ship, but then again those types of thoughts were only really in my orbit at an age where I’d still figured my parents probably loved each other. When you’re old enough to realize you forgot to keep asking yourself what you were going to be when you grow up, it’s too late, and you’re already a bartender on a cruise ship. 

Over time your body adjusts to the seasickness (or at least mine did). You lose that wobble in your legs. You lose touch with the creature comforts: aching less for the things you can’t have and instead just aching for the things you have the least of; your favorite color in a package of candy (it’s the best one, even if they all just taste like citric acid and sugar); the nights when you’re thinking about some argument you had years ago, and your internal monologue is just slightly louder than the giggling voices and the squealing bed frame in the next room over.  Those are the type of things you ache for. That’s where you get your vitamins and minerals. 

You grow more and more accustomed to it. It’s not quite like Stockholm syndrome, but the people that have been in it the longest aren’t too dissimilar to the type of prisoners who get too comfortable in their surroundings, forgetting to remember what they ever liked about being free and relishing the idea of having their lives plotted out for them. 

I was coming to accept it. Every day the same laughing faces with just slightly different features, rarely considering if the smile you return is anything more than performative. The man who rips your ticket at the cinema smiles warmly and tells you to “enjoy your movie” and, if you’re smart you tell him “you too” but it’s maybe just a little different if he lives under one of the seats in the theater. I was that man under the seat, right after the lights go off, sleeping on a bed of stale popcorn under the stars of dried forgotten bubblegum. That’s what it’s like to work on a cruise ship. You’re a mechanic, tucking himself in under the hood of a car, and curling up around the radiator. You’re an office worker fluffing your keyboard pillow and smacking your head on the bottom of your desk. 

I’m ashamed to say that when I first found myself stepping on to this ship, I was trying to start a new life for myself. I wanted to see the world, but I’d had to settle for gift shops in the Bahamas. I’d broken up with my fiance after a four and a half year relationship, and the worst part was that I felt absolutely nothing about it. I wanted so bad to feel like garbage and to hate myself. I wanted to force myself  to beg and plead for her to come back, but I couldn’t. The place in my heart that held any sort of emotion felt like the spot you poke your tongue at after you’ve lost a tooth: a fragile empty place with a faint taste of copper. 

I thought I could forge a new path and redefine myself. I’d pictured myself becoming a whole new person with a whole new perspective on life, but in the end I’d only discovered that I was miserable, I’d always been miserable, and I’d likely always be miserable. My whole existence having been sullied by a deep seeded misery that numbed my body like a bath of needles full of Novocaine.

The man that I met on the lower deck that night was solemn. He wasn’t interested in talking to me and that’s probably the only reason I really wanted to talk to him–that, and maybe the light gleaming off of his bald head. The guests on these ships either look right through you, or they squint their eyes a bit too hard so that they can make out all of your details. I’d learned that if I took my name tag off, with my puffy white shirt and shiny red satin vest,  I’d stand more likely to pass for a magician, so I usually kept the name tag on. Magicians don’t wear name tags. 

The guests ask you too many questions. They think you live in the same luxury that they’re paying to get a taste of, that you’re afforded the same amenities. They ask if you get a discount on cruises… as if I’d actually pay money to be here. They’re stupid, awful people. This man wasn’t like them, and because of that I liked him. He stood there, flicking ashes from an overpriced, cheap cigarette into the black abyss. I asked if I could borrow a light and he handed me a book of matches, which I found interesting. There’s a story that comes along with a man who carries a book of matches. 

He’d seemed the type to have baggage–the type of baggage that makes you calloused and rough around the edges. When life gives you lemons, these types of guys don’t make lemonade, they just eat the damn lemons. He smirked and spoke through the left side of his mouth, keeping the cigarette clenched between his lips. “You’re gonna’ ask me what I’m doing up at this hour, right?” 

I hadn’t considered it, but it was three in the morning. 

“Nope,” I said, flicking a match and guarding it from the wind as I lit my own cigarette. “I was going to ask you if you noticed the No Smoking sign over there to your right.” 

The man chuckled. “Well, what’s keeping a young magician like yourself up at such late hours?” 

I didn’t resent the comment, it was actually sort of endearing. 

“Bartender,” I corrected, “and my next door neighbors are having a summer fling.” 

“So…envy?” asked the man. 

I gave him a raised eyebrow, as if to say “guess again.”

The man laughed. “Don’t act like you don’t miss her.” 

I was uncomfortable, but intrigued. I scratched my chin. 

“The girl,” he said. “The one you ran away from, the one that’s got you hiding your heartbreak with nihilism. You don’t gotta’ hide it from me, I was in love once too. What was her name again? Marsha… Megan…” 

I interrupted, “Madeline?”

He smiled. “It was on the tip of my tongue. You called her Maddy, right?” 

“How did you know that?” I stammered. 

“I know a lot of things,” he chuckled back.

“Yeah,” I said, “but can you narrow down how you know that thing specifically? Do I know you from somewhere?” 

The man sighed and rolled his eyes, like someone who’d been made to repeat himself more often than not. Thinking back on it now, maybe he had. 

“No, we’ve never met,” he told me. “Though it’s not beneath you to forget someone’s face. It just happens that I know a lot about you. In fact, it’s like I’ve known for my entire life that one day I’d meet you here. Maybe in the back of my mind I’ve even been counting down the days.” 

I swallowed my spit and gripped onto the railing. “That doesn’t really make any more sense of things. So you’ve been following me or something?” 

I took another drag of the cigarette, hoping it’d calm the twisting tubes in my stomach. I was halfway convinced that I’d just stumbled onto some sort of stalker or psychopath standing in wait, the reflection in his bald head not unlike the light of an angler fish. 

He was a burly man, and he had those type of thick hairy forearms that hardly taper before the wrists–the kind reserved for old football players turned gym teachers. I can’t say for sure why I didn’t turn heel and end this borderline unnerving encounter, but something about him made me want to stay. The man broke my train of thought.

“No… I haven’t been following you, but I have been following what happens inside your head.”

He took my skeptical and likely uncomfortable expression as a sign to continue. “I can remember the book you stole from the library when you were fifteen, the bike accident that earned you that scar on your elbow when you were eleven.”

It took me a second to recall both of those memories. I can’t say I was entirely convinced that something beyond reason was happening in that moment, but it was obviously beyond my own understanding of things. These certainly weren’t things that I’d thought a whole lot of people knew about me. I don’t think even Maddy knew about that book I’d stolen, after all I’d sort of forgotten about it over the years. 

“So you’re a psychic or something?” I asked.

He flicked the ash from his cigarette and ran a hand over his bald head. “I’m not a psychic. I can’t really read your mind. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen tomorrow or the day after that, I can only tell you things from the past that you already know, because I remember them the same way that you do.” 

“So is that what’s keeping you up tonight: remembering the day my dad figured out how to access the browser history on the family computer?” 

“He wasn’t mad…just disappointed”

The man let out a bellowing laugh that took me off guard. 

“Besides,” he said, “we both remember when you stumbled upon his browser history…” 

I laughed and cringed at the memory, but then I wasn’t sure what to say. I cleared my throat. “So can you remember everyone else’s memories?” 

“No, not everyone,” the man said. “Only certain people. For instance, you’re the only person aboard this cruise ship whose life I can recall. There are maybe a few dozen others. Some are more fuzzy than others and some just aren’t ready to be remembered yet.” 

I still wasn’t really able to form my thoughts, this was all just so strange. So instead of giving my brain a second to process any of it, I said something that was probably stupid. “So are you here to set me on the right path or something?” 

The man let out another hearty laugh.

“Not at all,” he said matter-of-factly. “I’m not your guardian angel, though that’s pretty flattering of you to think so. I’m not here to fix you. I’ve never had a knack for putting things back together anyway.” 

I tried to put a bit more thought into my next words, but the moment was just too surreal for me to get any sort of grip on it. “So you’re just on vacation and happened to run into someone whose whole life you can supposedly remember?” 

The man reached in to his pocket and produced an envelope. It was folded in half, and slowly spread out into a long ‘V’ shape. He didn’t bother smoothing the crease, he just handed it to me. He faked a smile. “I’m here because I want you to open this one day when you’re back on shore, hopefully after you’ve found that girl again.” 

I reluctantly took the envelope and tucked it in to my pocket, though part of me told me not to even touch it. The man reached down for a bottle of whiskey that I’d somehow missed. 

“Now,” he said, “let’s talk about something else for a while.”

As time passed and we spoke, his tone shifted. He told me stories, most of them being my own stories, forgotten and tucked away deep into my hippocampus like magical little spider eggs that hatched into stories I’d wished I could have remembered well enough to retell over the years. 

He reminded me of a time in middle school. It was Valentine’s day and my mom had forced me to bring a box of chocolates to my teacher, Misses Plick. The kids in class teased me for the rest of the day, calling me Mister Plick and asking if we were going to kiss and hold hands. What makes it all the more amusing is that I had all but forgotten that I actually did sort of have a crush on Misses Plick, and I didn’t really mind those playground insults. I’d forgotten all about it–that is until the man reminded me of it. He reminded me of how fascinated I was with Misses Plick’s fiery red hair… the same type of hair Maddy had.

I’d guessed Maddy probably still had that same fiery red hair, but sometimes it’s hard to talk about the partners of past relationships in present tense. It’s way too easy to get into the habit of talking about people like they’re dead or something. Maybe it’s easier to imagine someone no longer exists than it is to come to grips with the fact that they just no longer want to exist near you

Either way, I was happy to relive the memory of Misses Plick, and in that moment I felt like I had shared something special with the man. It felt kind of magical and I pretty much forgot about how unnerved I was at our introduction or about that brief moment of seriousness when he handed me that envelope. Actually, after a couple pulls from his whiskey bottle and a few shared laughs I’d started to see him as a friend. 

Soon enough the sun was rising and shades of pink, purple, and orange were seeping over the edges of grey and white clouds. Bloated, hungover guests would soon be groaning in their beds and pulling the curtains closed to get just another hour or two of sleep. I was afraid that our conversation was nearly over. We’d spent all night laughing and talking and I wasn’t quite ready for it to end, but the stories and laughs were beginning to be followed by deeper sighs and increasingly longer lulls in conversation. I broke the silence in the pause we were sharing, watching the sun seep through the stucco clouds.

“Can I ask you something?” 

The man didn’t turn to me, his eyes still settled on the sky and the shifting waves of the ocean. “Sure,” he told me. 

I took a deep breath. “Did you know I was planning to kill myself?” 

The man looked at me with soft and sympathetic smile. “I didn’t want to make any assumptions” 

He sighed, scratched his scruffy chin, and ground down his cigarette butt with his shoe before capping off the whiskey bottle. With that the man began his walk back to his cabin. 

“So that’s it?” I shouted out to him.

He looked back one last time. “Get some sleep, kid.”

For a while that was the end of the story. I met a strange and interesting man on a cruise ship who wasn’t a psychic but could remember all of my memories. It was a story I’d have to wait until I was a drunk old man to ever tell–though I guess now I’m telling it you and I’m still young and somewhat sober. 

When we reached shore I quit my job as a bartender and flew back to my parents’ house in California. It wasn’t until I was unpacking my bags that I found the letter and recalled what the man had said that night when he’d given it to me. I’d waited and I was back on shore and far away from that cruise ship. I wasn’t with Madeline though. She’d moved on in my absence, and I was okay with that. I hadn’t really gotten over it while I was on that ship, even if I’d thought I had. That was never my new beginning, it was only a place for me to stagnate and distract myself from my feelings. Sitting there on my childhood bed in my parents house and holding that envelope and coming to terms with things… that was my new beginning. 

It occurred to me that I was hesitant to open it. Not because it was some mysterious letter from a psychic man, but because I wasn’t sure what it would say and that made me nervous. I wish I could say it was a letter congratulating me for finding the strength to start over, or reminding me of the night that man somehow convinced me not to kill myself without even trying; just by being someone who was there when I just needed someone to be there. 

However, it wasn’t. What was inside soured everything from that night: twisted and distorted all of it and tainted every bit of what was an otherwise perfect memory. I’ve tried to forget about it. I’ve kept the letter stashed away in the bottom of a desk drawer full of forgotten papers and dried up ballpoint pens. 

It’s hard to think about that night without thinking about the letter and it’s contents. I am a different person than I was then, and I try not to dwell on things. I’d like to remember that night fondly and cherish it in my memories but now I do my best to block it all out. I’ve added it as a separate attachment to this email, so I’m hoping you didn’t read that one first. I hope this helps and I hope you can make some kind of sense of it. I think after I scan it and send it over I might burn it.

Attached to this document, as promised, was the letter from the man. The second document is handwritten. The handwriting wasn’t the best, and I had to transcribe it before reading it aloud, and at parts I had to rely on context and make out an approximation of what some of the words might have been. 

Nevertheless, it reads as follows.

Tyler, I’m sorry to burden you with this, but I’m afraid the story I’m about to tell you is something that I don’t think many others will believe. I haven’t met you yet, but I’m trusting while writing this that you’ve given me a chance to speak with you and you’ll give me a second chance to speak to you through this letter. 

I’m afraid that my time here is almost over and if I don’t make a decision soon then my fate will be decided for me. Because of that I’ve decided to end things on my own terms here on this cruise ship. The water is beautiful and I’d to see what’s at the bottom of it. By the time you read this, that’s where I will be. 

Before I move on from all of this, I’d like to share with just one living soul why I’m making this decision and it seemed natural that one person should be you, Tyler. After all, I know everything about you and I’ve watched you and grown with you in my mind for a very long time. We have a lot of things in common and I’ve grown to think of you as a close friend that I keep inside my head. I’m sorry if that sounds strange.

I hope in reading this you’ll understand why I’m making this choice for myself, and I hope it won’t hurt you for me to say goodbye this way. You’re the only person I feel like I have on this earth that I could say goodbye to and you don’t even really know who I am. I’m sorry for that. If you want, you can stop reading this letter now. I’d like to tell my story and share with someone what’s driven me to do what I’m going to do, but I understand if that’s too much to ask.

It all started with a dream. It’s funny, the first time I experienced it I was on the water just like I am now, only I was on a lake in a small rowboat. All around me were these floating balls of weeds and fluff, only when I looked closer I realized they were heads of human hair. The water was murky but if I strained I could make out their necks and shoulders. 

There were people, seemingly standing at the bottom of this lake, all around me, so much so that they left no space between them. Shoulder to shoulder, hundreds of people stood in every direction, perfectly still, the very top of their heads just above the water. I wasn’t sure if the water was shallow or if they were floating, but they didn’t seem to make any effort to stay afloat nor did their bodies bob up and down or shift in any direction. It occurred to me that they could’ve also had unnaturally long legs–boney and stretched down to the silt at the bottom of this lake. 

Slowly, the ones closest to my small boat reached out with their hands and began to push the boat forward. Gradually I began to move across the top of this lake of people, each group progressively reaching out to push the boat just a bit further towards the next group of people. As the boat traveled I could hear it smacking and scraping along their heads, necks sometimes snapping as the boat pushed over their shoulders. 

A man rose from the crowd in front of me, a half dozen hands gathered around his ankles and holding him in place. He wore a khaki suit–form fitting, but reminiscent of something I might have seen in the seventies, and complete with a matching hat. His face was a swirling blur, sort of like I was looking at it through an out-of-focus fish-eye lens. Dripping bits of moss clung to his shoulders and across the brim of his hat. The man reached his arm up and waved to me as if I was an old friend.

I’d been so entranced by the man and his strange and performative rise from the water that I hadn’t noticed the boat I was in was slowly moving towards him. I didn’t want to get any closer and so I tried to rock the boat away from the grip of the people in the water. When that didn’t work I tried to pry at their fingers. I could hear the man laughing from afar, knowing that I’d have no choice but to soon be in his company. 

In a desperate plea I jumped from the boat. I’d expected the people to maybe grab at me and pull me back towards the boat or maybe drag my kicking body towards the man, but that wasn’t what happened. Instead they pushed my head under the water. A dozen arms from every direction held me down as I struggled, gurgling and trying to scream but only inhaling the murky pond water in to my lungs. 

I woke up from that nightmare gagging as I coughed out water and expelled it from my stomach and lungs onto the carpet of my bedroom. It had been a dream, but unlike any other dream I’d ever experienced. I spent the remainder of the night in shock, my stomach rolling and occasionally heaving up more water and muck. 

The sun eventually rose, and still dazed from an evening of horror and hacking up yellow mucus and stale pond water, I got dressed and ready for work. I live alone, and my studio apartment stank of stagnant water and mud. My walk was uneventful, but as I went to board the subway I found myself alone on the platform. The train pulled to a stop a few minutes earlier than usual, it’s brakes squealing and shrieking out into the tunnels at either side. 

The doors hissed open and people began to exit the train. While this usually takes a few minutes, it seemed to be taking much longer than usual, and oddly the people exiting the train were all just standing idly. Nobody was exiting the platform and it was beginning to fill up with various ordinary looking strangers. I moved to abandon the subway altogether, but the exit seemed to have disappeared, and in its place was a flat concrete wall. It was plastered with blank white posters and plaques, placed where you might expect to see advertisements or a train schedule. It was as if someone recreated what a typical wall might look like on a subway platform, but didn’t bother to fill in any of the details. 

With the exit having disappeared, I was stuck there as more and more people made their way off of the train and their bodies shifted closer and closer to me to make room. Something like an hour went by with a steady line of people exiting the train. More people were here now than what could’ve ever fit on that train, and still they just kept coming, quietly and single file, with no one person acknowledging another. 

When the final person exited the train, I was smashed against the people around me and almost unable to move. With all of my strength I pushed through them, their elbows painfully pressing against my stomach and ribs and into my back as I made my way towards one of the now empty subway cars. I found that my t-shirt was now torn and stretched from having pushed through the tight crowd of people, and hung loosely from my body. 

The fluorescent lights inside the passenger car blinked rapidly and gave the seats and walls a greenish yellow tinge with each flash. The inside of the car was filthy and dilapidated. The seats were grimy and torn, and rust came down in lines beneath the metal screws that held the panels in place. The floors were covered in mud, bits of crumpled paper, and empty plastic bottles. 

The man in the khaki suit stood before me in the distance. He raised his arm and waved. 

I woke up this time on the train, only it seemed ordinary. It certainly wasn’t clean, but it was a stark contrast to its previous state. Passengers talked amongst one another and rap music was playing from someone’s cell phone somewhere behind me. My shirt was sagging and torn and my body ached. It had to have been real, but then… maybe it wasn’t. Maybe I was losing my mind. 

Weeks went by, littered with similar incidents. Each time I found it more difficult to separate these dreams from reality and each time I’d seen that man in the khaki suit. I remember sitting at my desk when the phone rang. I picked it up only to hear static on the other end… and then a voice.

“You’ve forgotten about me,” it told me. “You’ve forgotten about all of us. Forgotten what they did to us.” 

I looked around me only to see what my desk wasn’t in my cubicle anymore. It was in some sort of daycare setting, only it felt cold and sterile. There was a large mirror panel that made up most of one of the walls. I could guess that the other side of that mirror was a window into this room I was in. On the other wall was a large chalkboard and on it were the words, “You are not a psychic.” 

None of it made any sense but it all felt so familiar… like I’d been here as a child and–like the voice had said–I’d forgotten it. The door opened and the man in the khaki suit stepped inside. He reached his arm up and waved to me, and then he snapped his fingers. I woke up at my desk again, feeling nauseous and unable to stop the raging panic in my chest. I passed out again and when I woke up I was in a hospital. 

I’d apparently had a heart attack, and one of my coworkers had called nine one one. They said I could’ve died. They said I was lucky. I wasn’t so sure. 

It’s been like that for long enough. Every night and every day, more terror… more terrible memories that I can’t quite make any sense of. I can’t tell what’s real anymore. I can’t sleep without having more of these visions, each one more terrifying than the last. The man with the khaki suit… I can’t tell if he’s trying to kill me or help me remember something. Something tells me it’s both. He wants me to remember what happened all those years ago and he wants me to die with that memory. 

I don’t want to live like this anymore. I don’t want to remember. I don’t want to die at his hand. I’m giving up. Whatever secrets are locked inside my head will be lost forever at the bottom of this ocean. I’m sorry to tell you all of this, Tyler. I want you to have a good life. I want you to go home and marry that girl and be the person you want to be. You’re strong in ways that I can never be, you just have to find it inside yourself. 

Thanks for being the friend that I keep inside my head.

The letter ends there, but there’s so much to take away from it. 

The man with the khaki suit: he was there, but was he the same person we were looking for? While I have a hard time believing there could be more the one dream killer, I can’t help but wonder if it’s the same person or if the current murderer is just using the same methods. 

This daycare… the words on the chalkboard. “You are not a psychic.” Maybe I’m reaching a bit, but did this have anything to do with Hydra? Was this all some sort of experiment? Is this the secret in unlocking the past of Dream Killer, or is this some sort of way to help figure out who he’s going to kill next? 

I don’t know how old the man on the ship was either. Was he one of these children, being told not to identify as a psychic, or was he on the other side of the glass. His abilities seem to suggest the former, but there’s really no way of knowing without finding more information. 

I guess for now this raises more questions than answers. Maybe if we can find Tyler we can find more information. Maybe the man said something else that they didn’t think to include. Until I can untangle all of this, I think I’m going to leave the episode here. That might not be the most satisfying conclusion, but it’s the best I’ve got for now. 

Thanks for listening and I’ll see you again in two weeks.

Halloween 2021: Embrace

See Content Warnings
General horror, language, missing persons.

If you, or someone you know needs help, call 800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

Need to skip this episode? Click here to see the plot.
A man investigates missing persons in the woods near a diner. He finds two teenagers looking to get away from town and plan to meetup later that night. Something stalks them in the woods. He comes back to follow them when they meet later and find one of them vanishes. The other turns to stone by a creature. The creature wants to connect with others, but turns any embraced human to stone. The person embraces the creature.

    I had stopped off at a diner. I wasn’t planning to get involved in anything, but as I nursed my coffee and watched the remnants of my cigarette smolder into ash on my table’s tray, I couldn’t help but notice a hush that fell over the place as the little bell over the door jingled. I casually glanced over to see a member of the San Diego County Sheriff walking in. He scanned the area until his eyes fell on a couple alone in a booth. The woman’s eyes were red and swollen, while her partner’s were narrow and angry, staring above his beard at the officer.

    The officer approached them and removed his hat. He seemed unsure whether to sit or remain standing. I couldn’t make out what he said, but I didn’t need to. The bearded man stood up suddenly, getting in the officer’s face, causing more than one patron to flinch as he yelled, “You’re a joke. This whole thing is a joke. It’s not like Pete was the first, and we all know he won’t be the last. If I want an ‘I’m sorry,’ I have my friends and family–while they’re still here, at least. So don’t come to me with apologies while this whole community vanishes in front of your face. Just do your fucking job!”

    The officer didn’t say anything else; he just took a step back before turning and walking back outside. Everyone else seemed to turn away as one and focus intently on their plates as the man sank back down into his booth and shakily grasped his partner’s hand. My interest was piqued, but I didn’t exactly have a way into the situation.

    Gradually, the conversations returned to their normal cadence as the couple was left in their own world that apparently was now devoid of Pete, who I presume to be their son. The table next to my own spoke in low tones, filling in the pieces for me.

    “He’s right to be so upset. I don’t know that I’d have the courage to speak up like that, but someone needed to say it. Too many people have been going missing in the woods, and nothing is being done about it.”

    So it was something in the woods. I finished my coffee, left cash on the table, and stepped outside, slowly withdrawing a pack of Marlboros from my jacket pocket. There was a crisp chill in the air, unusually cold for October. The town–if one could call it that–wasn’t big; I’d wager it wasn’t incorporated. Just a small community in the shadow of Palomar Mountain. The woods weren’t as thick as I would have expected for it to be an area people go missing in with above average frequency.

I smacked the pack of smokes while searching for an area that might be of interest along the tree line. That’s when I saw a couple of teenagers walking in a way that was clearly trying not to arouse suspicion while having the exact opposite effect. I tilted my head away but kept them in sight, fidgeting with an unlit cigarette. From this distance, they likely wouldn’t be able to tell I was still staring at them. After another minute, they ducked behind a tree and I watched them head deeper into the woods.

I put away the cigarette and took off after them. I reached the treeline and could just barely make them out through the brush and tree trunks. They were still looking around and I had to constantly weave in and out of trees to avoid detection by the two teens–who I could now see were young women. Finally, we made it to a particularly rocky section where they sat down atop a boulder. One grasped the hand of the other and they wordlessly kissed. Perhaps this wasn’t going to be as interesting an expedition as I’d hoped. I hunkered low to the ground and listened as a conversation began.

“I can’t stay here anymore, Hannah. This town… people like us don’t belong.”

The other girl seemed hesitant. “Tracy… I don’t know if I can leave everything.”

“What’s there to stay for?” Tracy asked. “Your parents would disown you if they knew you at all. Pete was the only one who knew about us, and even he’s gone now.”

“He… he could come back,” Hannah said.

Tracy shook her head. “After everything that’s been happening over the past five years or however the hell long this has been going on, you know that’s not true. If we don’t leave tonight, we may never leave. One day you’ll just vanish like the others. Then I’ll be alone.”

“Don’t say that,” Hannah said as she squeezed Tracy’s hand. I would normally shake my head at the impetuousness of young love, but in this case Tracy may have had a point.

“You know it’s true,” Tracy said. “We have to leave. Tonight.”

“I-” Hannah started.

“Don’t think. Just say yes. Meet me here tonight. At eleven o’clock. Not a minute later.”

A smile tugged at Hannah’s mouth. “Yes,” she said.

They started kissing some more when I heard a rustling in a bush way off to the left. Was there another peeping tom? Perhaps the elusive Pete? Or something more sinister? They heard it too and stood up quickly before running away. I ducked down behind a rock as they passed. I think they were too busy trying to get out of there to notice me.

Twigs snapped under the weight of… something. I waited silently for whatever it was to reveal itself. I checked my watch after my leg started cramping. It had been more than fifteen minutes with no movement. Whatever it was had likely gone. But why didn’t I hear it?

I slowly stood, scanning the area for signs of something else nearby. Plenty of trees, bushes, and rocks. Nothing else that I could make out. I looked at my watch again. I had some time to kill before they came back. But when they did, I planned to be here. Not to stop them, of course. I’m sure I’d aim to leave as well, were I in their shoes. But anytime someone went into those woods, I wanted to know what happened to them.

I stretched my legs, then headed in the direction of the sound I’d heard. With any luck, there’d be tracks. I’d heard twigs break, so there’d definitely be evidence of something there. As I approached, my hopes dropped. The bush that was likely the source of the sound grew out of a crack between stones. No spot for footprints. Whatever had been here chose its path well if it didn’t want to be tracked. Luck was not on my side.

I made my way back out. I couldn’t help but feel like I was being watched, but anytime I looked around, I found myself alone. Whenever I stopped, no matter how randomly, there was never any other noise that you wouldn’t expect to find in nature. I exited the woods. There really wasn’t anything of note around aside from the diner. I sighed and went back inside. The waitress raised an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything about my return. I chose a different seat, by the window this time, which offered me a good vantage over the woods.

Darkness fell and I stopped being able to see outside the window beyond the three lone cars inside the glow of the parking lot light. Nobody else had gone in the woods during my entire watch. Apparently the rest of the town had a little more sense about that sort of thing. I picked at a plate of food I’d ordered so they’d know I wasn’t just loitering, but mainly sipped on more coffee and burned through more smokes. Ten thirty rolled around, so I dropped another few bills on the table and stepped outside after a copious stretch. If I never sit in that diner again, it’ll be too soon.

I stood by my car, watching for any shadows moving against the dark outline of the trees that blended into the night sky. Then I caught the blink of a flashlight which quickly turned off. Bingo.

I headed towards the woods once I saw the beam beyond the trees. I had a flashlight of my own, but not only did I not want to risk it, I also could make things out pretty well between my eyes adjusting to the dark and the beam of light ahead that I was following. Or, at least, I thought I could. They suddenly shut their flashlight off and stopped walking.

I didn’t think we were already at the place they were planning to meet yet, so I froze, wondering if I’d been caught. I heard a muffled cry, then some rocks being smashed. I had no idea what would be breaking up rocks out here, but I did my best to run forward in the dark while I grappled with the flashlight in my coat. I finally got it out and turned it on, spinning around, trying to catch a glimpse of the girl. A reflection caught my eye. Her flashlight. It was on the ground. Something had taken her. Around the tool was no blood, just shattered rocks. What could do something like that, I thought.

I was about to start searching the area for any traces of the girl or whatever took her, when I saw another light bobbing in the woods. I ducked behind a bush and waited to see if this was the thing that hunts in the woods. As she passed me, I saw it was the other girl–Tracy, I think. She continued on, not noticing the flashlight her girlfriend had left behind. In another couple minutes, she arrived at their rally point.

I closed my eyes, trying to heighten my other senses and pay attention to the sounds in the woods. All the critters scurrying over branches and slithering through the underbrush seemed that much louder than normal. Then I heard sobbing. My eyes snapped open as I heard the flashlight clatter to the ground, coming to rest on just a pair of feet.

I bolted forward and turned on my own light. I didn’t know what to make of what my eyes saw. Before me stood a trembling Tracy, her eyes closed as tears streamed from her face. She didn’t seem scared, but she was crying. In front of her was… a creature. Almost human in some ways, something entirely other than human in every other possible way. It stood on two legs, likely around eight feet tall. Embedded in varying patches of fur and skin were pieces of rock and minerals. One arm was covered with–or perhaps made of–tree bark. The other had jagged bits of spikes–almost bone-like in appearance–protruding all over. Its long fingers seemed alive and independent of itself, wriggling like snakes as it raised its hand.

Then it stretched out and wrapped around Tracy. As soon as she was folded into its arms, her skin began morphing and within a few seconds, she–clothing and all–turned entirely to stone.

“No!” I yelled as I dashed towards them, but I was hopelessly late. Instead, it jerked its face to me, dozens of insect-like eyes scattered without pattern down its face and neck. I heard rocks crumbling and, without realizing it, I was unconscious.

When I finally came to, I was propped up against a boulder, facing a tree. My head was pounding. I reached for my metal flashlight–the only thing I had that would likely do any damage against whatever it was that I saw–but it was gone. As quietly as I could, I rose to my feet and looked around for it. It seemed to be gone. Then, the tree in front of me grew. Before my eyes, its form emerged from the bark of the tree until it completely separated and stood directly in front of me.

“What… who are you?” I asked. I don’t know what I expected; it had no mouth. At least, not in the traditional sense as far as I could see. Then I felt it… inside my head. It was communicating with me. Not with words or any method I can really describe, but I understood it all the same.

I saw its childhood, if you can call it that. I watched as it was formed and abandoned, as they all were. There were others like it, but this species was vicious. Untrusting. Uncaring. Every one for itself. They hunted differently. Blending. Camouflaging. Becoming their surroundings, quite literally. Their ability had a dual purpose, to that end. It wasn’t for offense, it was for defense. Should a predator–or another one of their kind–attempt anything, they can embrace it and it turns to stone. The second purpose to this is that, because they are such an incredibly violent species towards each other, it prevents the possibility of back stabbing. Evolution had demanded that it avoid the risk of emotional connection, so it prevented a physical connection as well.

I watched as this thing before me looked at other creatures–birds, bears, humans, anything it could see–and longed to be connected to something. But it couldn’t. Its loneliness was unbearable to feel. I felt tears forming in my eyes. I should have been repulsed. I should have tried to stop it, or at least dissect it. But I couldn’t. My knees felt weak. Everything felt weak. Then I heard the question. No, I felt the question.

Can I embrace you?

This creature spent centuries longing for a connection, even if it could only have it for a moment. When you can feel that empty loneliness for yourself, no matter how little humanity you may have, you can’t help but empathize with it. How could I say no?

It stepped forward. I felt the coarse bark rub against my arm, then the bony spikes dig into my ribs. My pain mattered so little though. I raised my own arms as I began to lose feeling. I embraced it.

Halloween 2021: Mask

See Content Warnings
General horror, murder, audible gun violence, violence

Here’s another Halloween bonus episode for you.  The listener-prompt for this one was “masks,” though I’ve taken the liberty of converting the plural to the singular.  This one was written by me, Jeremy Enfinger.  Hope you enjoy.

The act of donning a mask can be literal or metaphorical.  When we put on masks, that is the literal kind, there’s enough evidence to sustain the belief that normal behavior of the individual wearing it can change.  For many, it’s providing an element of anonymity, making it easier for the morally conscious to make choices and conduct themselves in a manner that is outside of their normal character.  For the sake of argument, you could say that this could change a person’s behavior to be better or potentially worse.

This begs the question, did the person wearing the mask have this atypical behavior already contained within them, or did the mask itself somehow influence the individual. One other possibility has been recently suggested, and that is the mask allows for a means to an end.  It grants the ability or the freedom to fulfill a purpose.  Whose purpose is difficult to say.

I’ll let you decide after hearing this account from a distant relative. I should note that no one in our family knew the true names of the people in this story that has been handed down the generations except for my twice great aunt, who has recently passed away.  Now we’ll never know, but I took the liberty of giving each of the people pseudonyms.  

My aunt, who’s name was Mildred, was just two years old when her family settled in the area.  They were pioneers who claimed stake to forty acres of land on which they built their home and grew crops.  She was the youngest of six siblings.  By age ten, the surrounding land had been settled by people much like them, and their closest neighbor had built their home fairly close to Mildred’s, as each was close to their prospective property lines.  

Mildred’s neighbors had a similarly sized family, and she befriended several of the children.  She knew their parents very well also.  The father’s name was Malachai and his wife was Sarah.  Malachai was a hardworking blacksmith with his own shop in town just a few miles away.  He came home after sunset often, but he was never too tired to play with his children for just a while before heading inside for supper, and he always included Mildred and any of her brothers and sisters that happened to be playing with them.  Mildred always admired his belt buckle, which was obviously something he crafted himself.  It was an oval-shaped bronze piece with a horse drawn wagon in the center.  It was truly unique and quite the work of art.

One evening, just after sunset, Mildred was fetching a pail of water from the well when she saw Malachai in the distance on horseback, heading home.  He had stopped just outside of his property line and was approached by another man on horseback whom Mildred didn’t recognize.  Malachai’s children and Mildred and some of her siblings stopped what they were doing to watch.  Their meeting didn’t last long, but Malachai didn’t play with the children that day.  He just dismounted from his horse and walked slowly towards his home, seemingly oblivious to the children.  He went inside and sat down at his table with Sarah to talk.

Mildred and several other children tried to listen from outside their window, but couldn’t hear much of the conversation.  She remembered him mentioning something about their land and the railroad.  He sounded despondent.  The children quickly scattered like roaches when Malachai looked up at the window and saw several sets of watchful eyes peering back at him.

Mildred had difficulty putting what she witnessed out of her mind, so she told her father about what she had witnessed.  Her father, who’s name was Earnest, gathered Mildred and her siblings before bed that night and said they had something very important to tell them.  He explained that the Payton family, who owned much of the neighboring land, had made a deal with the government to allow the railroad to be built going right through all of his property.  Mr. Payton had already approached him about buying his property, and that was also the man that Malachai had been speaking to earlier.

Earnest explained that the Paytons had offered them a large sum of money for their property, which excited the children quite a bit, but he appeared solemn.  Mildred noticed this and asked, “Isn’t that a good thing, poppa?”

Earnest smiled and said normally it would be, but the offer also came with a threat.  He told the children that Mr. Payton gave him two options.  The first was to sell and the second was going to be “not as nice.”  He didn’t like his choices, and he had worked hard to build what they had, but the law wasn’t necessarily present in those days, and Earnest didn’t wish to risk the safety of his family.  He told the children he negotiated for an even higher price than what was offered, and he had already found another property further West with a river on it that he was interested in.  He said they would begin harvesting their crops and preparing for the move the following morning, noting it would take several days to pack and load everything.

The following day, as Mildred’s family was harvesting their crops, Mr. Peyton approached Malachai’s home on horseback.  When Earnest saw that the children had stopped what they were doing and were watching Peyton ride up to Malachai in front of their home, he told the children to stay where they were.  Apparently Malachai hadn’t ridden into town to his shop that day.  Earnest began running toward Peyton and Malachai, but as he approached, Mildred saw Peyton’s outstretched arm emit a large puff of smoke toward Malachai.  A second later, Mildred heard the crack of a pistol and saw Malachai take two steps backwards before falling on his back.

Peyton, still on his horse, rode up next to Malachai and tossed a burlap sack on his chest.  Earnest began running toward Malachai as Peyton rode off toward the horizon.  All the children followed Earnest and stopped when they got close enough to see Malachai.  By that time, Sarah and her children were surrounding Malachai’s body.  Dark liquid began spreading out from underneath him and soaking into the dirt around him.  Sarah looked at Earnest through tears and said, “He refused to sell.”  

Earnest opened up the burlap sack that had been resting on Malachai’s chest, now soaked in blood.  It contained two things.  A large sum of money, which was later determined as the original asking price for Malachai’s property, and a bunch of his hand tools he used for his blacksmith work.  It consisted of various types of what looked to Mildred like hammers, chisels, and a few other things that she didn’t know the technical names for.  Sarah instructed her children to go into the house.  When they did, Mildred watched her take the money out of the sack, and she left the tools in the bloodstained burlap next to Malachai’s body.  Two of Mildred’s older brothers and Earnest spent the rest of the day burying Malachai.

Just eleven days later, Mildred’s and the late Malachai’s families were both packed and as the remaining sunlight faded, all the children watched their homes get smaller and smaller as they began to make the short journey into town.  Earnest had agreed to help Malachai’s family relocate, offering them a place to stay with his own family until they had everything sorted.  The plan was to ride six miles into town and stay at the hotel before beginning the seventy mile trek the next morning.  

Mildred specifically remembered that night for many reasons.  The first was because, as they rode away, she was the last of the children to be watching the homes in the distance.  When they got small enough to be covered up by her thumbnail, which she had been using to gauge distance, she saw someone walking in front of the house that used to be Malachai’s.  Whoever it was, Mildred said, was not wearing a hat, but had something over their head.  She tried to point the person out to some of her siblings, but they just ignored her.

Not long after that, seemingly out of nowhere, a huge thunderstorm began pelting the families as they traveled the remaining few miles to the hotel.  They made it, but not before suffering bitterly-cold weather that was unusual for that time of year.  Each family checked into the hotel, and two rooms were rented, one for each family.  As the families were being issued the keys to their rooms, the lobby door opened and Sarah was the first to stop in her tracks.  Her face turned to rage and her eyes welled up.  Mildred turned around to see Mr. Peyton closing the door behind him.  

Peyton developed a smug grin and squeezed his way through the children making his way toward the front desk.  Sarah didn’t move though.  They stood for a moment, face to face, until Peyton removed his hat, revealing his matted gray hair, and finally spoke up. 

“You made the right decision to leave, and I hope you find your rooms to be hospitable.” 

He motioned to the woman at the desk and said, “Give these folks their money back, and give them some extra clean linens… no charge.”  

A display of confusion landed on Sarah’s face until he spoke again.  “I guess you might not have heard.  I just bought this hotel today.  You enjoy your night now.”

Sarah’s open right hand landed with a loud smack across Peyton’s left cheek, causing him to lunge to the side.  When he turned his head toward Sarah, his grin had left his face, which was now turning red.  He lifted his right hand in preparation to return the blow, but before he could land it, Earnest’s grip around Peyton’s wrist prevented it.  At that point, two young men who had been standing unnoticed by the doorway stepped forward with their hands on their pistols clinging to their hips.  

Earnest stared hard at Peyton, whose face changed once again back to a smug grin, only slightly smaller this time. 

“Have you met my boys, Earnest?” Peyton said.

They stared at one another for what seemed like an eternity, but Earnest eventually let go and told everyone to hurry up and get to the rooms.  As the families were climbing the stairs, Mildred turned around to witness Peyton and his two sons each getting keys to their own separate rooms.  They were going to be staying at the hotel as well.

Later that night, Mildred had trouble sleeping.  The thunder and lightning from the storm had intensified.  Normally, she found the rain peaceful, but she couldn’t shake an unsettling feeling she had.  Whether it was because of the situation they were in, or the fact that a murderer slept under the same roof as them, she was awake most of the night.

Not long after the lanterns were out and everyone else had drifted to sleep, Mildred laid facing the doorway to their room.  Her attention was drawn toward the faint light coming from underneath it, likely put off by the fire still burning in the lobby fireplace.  When she saw shadows blocking out that light, she knew someone had stopped outside their door.  Their footsteps didn’t make a sound, but they lingered, shifting back and forth for a while before moving down the hall.  Whoever it was never twisted the door handle, and she thought it odd that someone would stop there for so long without trying to knock or enter.

A few minutes later, as Mildred waited intently to see if the person would return, she heard someone knock on one of the doors down the hall.  It was too far away to be Sarah’s room.  Shortly after, she heard a strange noise.  It was faint, but repetitious.  It sounded like someone was punching a pillow.  The noise went on for several minutes, which only added to Mildred’s inability to sleep.  Once the noise stopped, she heard the door down the hall open quietly, and then latch closed.  She waited anxiously to see if the shadows of feet walked past the crack under the door again, which was located near the top of the stairs.  Again, without a sound, she saw the shadows again.  They didn’t stop this time.  They just kept walking toward the stairs.  

After enough time had gone by to ensure whoever it was would be well on their way down the stairs, Mildred couldn’t fight the urge to know who it was that had been stealthily navigating the hotel.  She knew that if she waited too long, she would never be able to get a glimpse of them, so she walked quickly, but quietly to the door and opened it.  She had just barely opened it when she looked to the right and saw the figure of a man descending the stairwell toward the lobby.  Not being able to see any identifying features, she decided there was enough distance between them to go out to the railing outside the door for a better look, and she could easily make it back inside the hotel room if the person turned around and started to run.  

As she approached the railing, the doorway continued to slowly swing open.  She saw the man reach the bottom of the stairs and turn toward the hotel doorway as he passed by the fire, now with nearly exhausted flames.  It emitted enough light, however, for Mildred to see the man’s hands were covered in blood.  About the same time she realized this and started to panic, the door made a creaking sound as it stopped swinging.  

Mildred looked back at the door, and through it she glimpsed her family, still asleep.  When she turned to look back over the railing, the man stood in the middle of the lobby, staring up at her.  She couldn’t identify the person because he was wearing a burlap sack over his head, stained with blood.  Mildred tried to scream but nothing came out except a weak wheeze, which was all she could muster.  As she watched the man, she also noticed a glint coming from his waist.  The light was low, but Mildred was almost certain it was the belt buckle of Malachai’s that she so admired.  The one he was wearing when he was buried.

Thoughts of the supernatural, of ghosts and demons, and of the dead swirled in Mildred’s head.  She wasn’t scared of the man that stood below her in the hotel lobby anymore, but she wondered how she could be witness to such a thing.  The man then turned toward the hotel entryway and exited the door into the night and Mildred returned to her room and closed the door.  She was eventually able to fall asleep, but only felt like she had just closed her eyes when her father, Earnest woke her up.  

By the time both families made it to their wagons, which were soaking wet from the storm the night before, the sun had barely risen.  About three hours after their departure from the hotel, a rider approached the wagons from behind.  Earnest stopped and turned around to address the man as he slowed his horse to a trot, and the man flashed a silver badge.  He was the Sheriff of the town we left behind, and he asked the adults some questions mainly about whether or not they heard anything throughout the night… any noises at all.  He asked to see their hands, and then asked to look at the children, which he did briefly.  What he did not do was ask the children if they heard anything.  Mildred had learned early on not to speak to adults or offer any information more than what was asked.  It was the way she was raised.

As the Sheriff scanned the children with his eyes, Mildred started twitching her fingers, which he seemed to notice, but then moved his gaze to the other children.  Thankful to have been glossed over, Mildred looked at Sarah, who had been staring straight at her.  She didn’t think anything of it at the time, and Sarah never mentioned it.  When Earnest asked what this was all about, the Sheriff tried to speak quietly, but all of the children heard him.  He said someone had broken into three rooms at the hotel the previous night and murdered the people staying in them with what he believed to be a blunt object, possibly a hammer.  

He asked the adults if they knew the Peytons.  Earnest said, “Why yes, we just sold our land to them.”

At this, the Sheriff perked up as if he considered them to be suspects.  Then Sarah said, “Yes, what a lovely man!  He even offered to give us our rooms for free on our way to our new land.  I’m sure you can check the clerk’s log at the hotel.”

The Sheriff squinted for a moment, then relieved some tension in his body before saying, “I’ll do that.  Sorry to bother you folks, but I wanted to check with you before you got too far away from town.  Safe travels!”

Then he galloped away in the direction he came from.  It took three days to get to the new land, which had modest housing already built.  After Mildred’s family unpacked, Earnest sent Mildred to Sarah to see if she needed any help with anything, and to invite them to supper.  Sarah was grateful for the offer, but said they were almost done.  She had been carrying one of the last of her items into her bedroom.  It was a chest of some kind with the symbol of a hammer and anvil etched into the lid.  

She tripped and nearly fell on a small container she couldn’t see while carrying the chest, and for a split second, the chest lid opened.  It was quickly closed by Sarah once she regained her footing. 

“It’s just some of Malachai’s old things,” she said.

Mildred nodded, then told her that her dad said if you need anything, just holler.  Sarah gave Mildred a look of discernment before Mildred turned around and ran home as fast as she could.

Eventually, Sarah remarried, but the families remained close and their new property was handed down generations and stayed in each of their families.  This story had been told by Mildred so much that everyone in our family could recite it by the time she passed, but she always left one part out of it.  Mildred was able to see some of the contents of that chest that Sarah dropped.  I don’t know why she shared the full story with me before she died.  Maybe it’s because she knows I’m into this kind of thing.  But when that chest lid popped open, Mildred told me she saw some of Malachai’s blacksmith tools along with that blood-stained burlap sack.  It was the same sack that she witnessed Payton throw on Malachai’s body when he was murdered, and it was also the sack that she saw on the man in the hotel that night.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this additional Halloween bonus episode… we’re not done yet!  We’ve still got more bonus treats in store for you, and maybe even a trick or two.