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.
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.