Today I’m going to be skipping my usual introduction to what I’m about to read, more or less, because I’ll have much more to say about this particular set of papers afterwards. So, with no further ado, I’ll begin.
It started with a phone call. Their exact words were unimportant, but the directive was clear. I had a long drive ahead of me. I knew my girlfriend wouldn’t want me to leave without saying goodbye, but I also knew she’d be even more upset if I woke her up at one oh six in the morning when she had to wake up in just three hours to get ready for her shift at the hospital. Instead, I left a note on the counter, letting her know I’d see her when she got home.
I closed the front door as quietly as I could and got in the car. I had a two hour long drive ahead of me and I was relishing the idea about as much as a colonoscopy. But I had to go.
I glanced into the cup holder to see I’d left my thermos in here from this morning. I checked it and, sure enough, there was still coffee in there – now completely cold. Swallowing my pride with the coffee, I felt the familiar buzz as my neurons began to fire up and ask what the occasion was. It wouldn’t last, but it had to be enough because it’s all I had and they weren’t the type to be happy if I made them wait around for me.
Any road is a long and lonely road at this time of night, but none are longer or lonelier than your generic back road under the moonless sky, the forgotten highway that they should really just let nature reclaim. Some would call it the scenic route, but to me it was an inconvenience surrounded by mountains, valleys, and the occasional patch of bushes and trees. Maybe I’m just grumpy because I only ever take these routes at night, but color me unimpressed by the vague shadowy figures that line my night journey.
The one thing that always made this trip worth it, aside from the fact that I had no choice in the matter, was the radio. Usually radio is extremely boring, but when you get in just the right spot you could pick up something…different. If you tune your dial just right…somewhere between the Christian Contemporary music on one oh two point one and the religious broadcast on one oh two point five…there it is.
Those things have always fascinated me. I feel like I’m still thinking of them in my dreams sometimes. Some people count sheep…I listen to people say numbers, I guess. The really fascinating thing is these things don’t normally play on your regular radio. There had to be a pirate station out there somewhere, which makes it all the more interesting, I think.
I was so caught up with the person reciting the numbers and trying to mentally decode what I’m sure is either gibberish or a code far too advanced for something in my head…I didn’t notice the headlights behind me at first. I checked my speedometer instinctively. If it was a cop, they were being a dick by riding my ass when I’m going a mile or two under the speed limit. I had to flip my rearview mirror to keep myself from being blinded by the lights. After a minute or two the lights backed off some. I don’t know why they didn’t just pass me, but at least they got the hint that I wasn’t going to speed up on account of them. Then they turned off their headlights.
At least I thought they turned them off. Anything that lights up the road was pretty sparse, but there was a lone streetlight ahead. I kept my eyes mostly on the mirror as I passed it, but there was no sign of the vehicle behind me. I hadn’t passed a turn off anywhere so they would have either had to take an illegal u-turn or pull off to the side of the road completely. As soon as I was out of the light and I looked away for a sec, the car was once again on my bumper, barely illuminated by my tail lights.
My foot pushed down on the gas. I had no interest in these games. It was extremely difficult to see, but I was pretty sure I could make out the shape of the car getting further away. I was straining to look in the mirror so much as it seemed to flicker then disappear from view that I didn’t see the car stopped in front of me. I slammed on my brakes and cranked the wheel to avoid a collision, swerving until I was perpendicular to the road. It wasn’t until I had come to a halt with the engine idling that I realized just how loud the radio had become. I turned the volume down as I just tried to breathe.
Once my heart calmed down, I looked at the car that was now to my right. There was a figure standing in front of the car. I squinted, trying to see more detail, but the figure stood in the perfect patch of darkness between our two vehicles. He, or it, I suppose I should say, didn’t move towards me or away from me. It just stood there, motionless. I glanced at the time. It was one oh six in the morning. I’d never run into a single other vehicle on this road at this time before tonight. I didn’t like the odds that the first person I’d run into was driving recklessly, and the second person was standing still outside of their car that was stopped in the middle of the road. And both of them just happened to occur in the same night.
I looked behind me to gauge how much space I had, then, without losing sight of the figure at least in my peripheral vision, I backed up to put my car in line with the road. My headlights lit up the car in front of me…but didn’t reveal anything about the figure. It was like the figure was absorbing the light instead of reflecting it. I double checked the locks, then eased the car forward without moving my eyes from him…it.
It still made no motion towards me, and I immediately accelerated once I had passed the car. I needed to get to the end of my trip before anything else happened. I wondered if this had anything to do with why they had called me tonight. I couldn’t ignore the unease in my gut, despite all the oddities being behind me now.
At least, that’s what I thought, until I saw the absence of light form the shape of the figure ahead of me in my headlight beams. This wasn’t possible. It was standing on the side of the road, simply facing me. It almost seemed like it was flickering. I didn’t slow down.
Within a minute, the figure was once again in front of me, this time standing in the middle of the road. Instead of slowing down, I sped up as I eased into the opposite lane and flew past it. I looked in my rear-view mirror, but of course could see nothing. It was too dark out and this thing, whatever it was, seemed to be made of the darkness. I put some more pressure on the gas. My anxiety was skyrocketing. I wanted to be done with this trip already. I wanted to be back home, in bed, cuddling with my girlfriend until she left for work.
What felt like an eternity passed. I glanced at my clock. One oh six. Just a little longer and I’d be there. My eyes were wide, trying to absorb all of my surroundings, waiting for the next figure to appear ahead of me. I glanced in my rear-view mirror again and almost swerved off the road as I saw it there, in my mirror…in my backseat. It was as motionless as ever.
“Who are you?” I yelled. “What do you want?”
It didn’t appear to acknowledge me in any way. It just sat there. There were no facial features. No eyes, no mouth, nothing. There was static on the radio for a moment, then it sounded like one of my car’s speakers cut out. That’s when I realized the radio station wasn’t coming from my speakers. It was coming from…it. The figure. Without moving at all, the numbers were emanating from this void of a person in my backseat. The voice had not changed at all. It was the exact same broadcast as it had been when my car’s radio had been playing it.
Then it leaned forward and, instead of numbers, it said two words.
I looked again at the rear-view mirror and it was gone. I looked back at the road and it was in front of me, running directly at me. This time I wasn’t able to keep the car on the road. Glass shattered and metal crunched as a tree brought me to an abrupt stop. Everything faded away except for the distant sound of my car horn stuck on…and the radio.
I know I had more to say, but just before I get to that there’s one other paper to read for you. This one states at the top that it’s the personal notes from Doctor James Baker and dated September fifteenth of twenty twelve. It begins:
I don’t know if it’s even worth continuing to write these notes with the trial and its study being in the state that it is now. All my other notes are gone already. But, for whatever it’s worth, here’s a brief overview of the most notable work I’ve ever done. A few years ago my department received funding to explore dreams and the brain’s ability to remember or forget them. The potential applications for this study are numerous, but I personally was most interested in the possibility of impact for those experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.
About a year ago, we had a breakthrough. This breakthrough was somehow granted approval for human trials at a pace I didn’t think possible. Essentially, we were able to either activate or inhibit melanin concentrating hormone-producing neurons in the hypothalamus. For those not aware of what that means, we were able to either make people remember or forget their dreams completely.
We had enough funding to pay one hundred twenty participants. More than I liked were just college students, but we had a pretty good variety of subjects from all different backgrounds. We split the participants into three equal groups. For a four week period, we didn’t give them anything in order to establish a baseline. Starting with Week Five, Group A took a pill meant to stimulate the neurons, Group B took a pill meant to inhibit the neurons, and Group C took a sugar pill.
Over a six month period, we monitored each group’s sleep and would wake them up at a set interval each week after they had entered REM sleep, the part of sleep where we dream. They would then recite the dream they had to the best of their ability. The results were better than we had hoped.
It didn’t happen immediately, but by the end of Week Six, every single participant in Group A was able to vividly recall their dream at any point that we woke them up. Group B couldn’t remember a single thing, and Group C had similar results to the initial four week period, with a slightly increased proclivity to remembering more details, but nothing that can’t be explained by the placebo effect.
Week Thirteen is when we started to get…unusual results. We had selected that week to wake up all the subjects just one minute and six seconds into REM sleep. It wasn’t until we compared notes at the end of the day that our suspicions were confirmed. All forty subjects in Group A had the exact same dream.
There was no common denominators that we could determine amongst the individuals themselves other than all being local to the San Diego area, but even in that they didn’t all grow up here, so I don’t think that had anything to do with it. And yet, despite their own age, gender, sexual preference, job, living situation… anything like that… they all dreamed that they were in a relationship with a woman who works at a hospital, going for a drive at one oh six a.m. due to a vague phone call. They all listened to the same radio station. They all encountered this figure. They all seemed to lose consciousness within their dreams as a result of a car accident. Every last one of them was exactly the same, down to the smallest detail of drinking day old coffee.
This kept up for five days. The next two days, we woke them up one minute and six seconds in, just as before, but all the dreams were different again. I don’t know who was more relieved, the people in Group A or the staff recording the dreams. It was a creepy dream, after all.
Even though it was all confidential, people talk. To their spouse, their close friend, to coworkers… even to strangers on the internet. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but somebody had to have leaked what happened.
Halfway into Week Fourteen, our funding was pulled abruptly. A few hours later, I kid you not, two men and one woman, all in gray suits, came in and began collecting everything. All the documentation, the pills, the formulas… everything was placed into boxes and carted away. I still had a photocopy of one the dream they all had in my pocket – I had been reading it over and over in what little spare time I had. If not for that, I wouldn’t have anything. They even searched my home to make sure there was nothing from the study or subsequent trials there. They offered no explanation.
Years of my life were taken away from me, and now there’s no hope of understanding what happened in Week Thirteen. So now I have this personal note, which doesn’t even really serve as evidence since it’s all from memory now. Science eventually will answer every question, of this I’m certain. But what do we do when science is stolen from us? I can only hope that whoever stole my work, my life… I hope that they will at least put it to good use. For science.
I read these papers for the first time about six weeks ago now. It bothered me quite a bit. Who is to say that I haven’t had that same dream and it had just gotten lost thanks to the neurons in my… hypothalamus. How do any of us know we haven’t had that dream? And if we have… what other dreams have gone unremembered, and how many have we all shared?
So, six weeks ago, I bought a watch that monitors my pulse and connected it to an app that monitors my sleep. It’s not an exact science and honestly my sleep has been terrible lately which doesn’t help matters, but I’ve been able to have it wake me at varying times after I’ve entered REM sleep. Last week I think I hit on something. The next day I set it to wake me at the same time, eight minutes and thirty-two seconds, and I definitely dreamt the same dream twice. The third day it changed. Whether that was due to the lack of proper tools I had available to me or whether the time changed for the dream, I’m not sure.
Now, I don’t have all the same memory enhancements that were available for the drug trial so I really don’t have much, but I was able to write some things down to the best of my memory.
I just walked out of a bar. I felt relieved. I had finally gotten things off my chest. I knew there was a chance I wasn’t going to come out of that meeting entirely sober, which is why I had arranged for the meeting to be walking distance from my place. I was on San Diego Avenue when I saw it. It wasn’t the first time I’d encountered it and I knew it wouldn’t be the last time. No other pedestrians seemed to notice it. I glanced at my wristwatch. Eight thirty-two.
I stopped walking. Although it was about a block away, the figure sounded as though it was talking right behind me. Just as it always did, it began reciting numbers. It did this for what felt like several minutes, but when I looked at my watch again it was still eight thirty-two. When I looked back up, it was just inches away from me. And then everything was black.
I wish I could remember what the numbers were that the figure was saying, but I just don’t think it’s possible. I don’t think I’m supposed to. But this seems like it confirms my suspicions. I think that there are dreams that we all share. They seem to revolve around this dark figure and numbers. I don’t know what it all means, and I’m even further away from figuring out how it’s possible in the first place, but at least it’s a start. I’ll continue to try this and if any listeners are able to, please send me any dreams that involve the dark figure and how far into REM sleep you were when you woke up. Maybe with enough of us involved in this, we can find out why this is happening.
With these dreams being so heavy on my mind, I had another thought as well. On a hunch, I called Brianne.
JEREMY: Hey, Brianne, how are you doing?
BRIANNE: I… now’s not really a great time, Jeremy, so…
JEREMY: Sorry, I’ll make this quick. This is about something I found in the papers that I read and I was wondering if you know anything about. Oh, and since I’m doing this for the podcast, I’m recording this. Is that okay?
BRIANNE: Yeah, that’s fine. What did you find?
JEREMY: It may be nothing, but… do you know any female nurses, or anyone that works at the hospital, I guess, who was seeing anyone in two thousand twelve who… used to go on long night drives? Maybe for work or something?
BRIANNE: You read about this in the papers?
JEREMY: Yeah. A group of forty people all had the same dream about this person.
BRIANNE: I… I think that was me. Sorry, I know I should be getting used to stuff like this, but that’s… in two thousand twelve my boyfriend went on a back country road at night. They found his body the next day.
Thanks for listening. I’ll explore another paper next time.