If you listened last week to the show, you know that I’ve been combing through the storage papers looking for things related to dreams and sleep. If you haven’t yet I strongly suggest you pause this episode and go back and listen to the one previous.
I hadn’t been completely honest with Brianne about my own experiences as of late, and I wasn’t sure if she was ready to be honest with me either. I figured it might help if I went first. I shared the contents of last week’s episode with her, along with some details I didn’t think wise to share publicly. I also shared with her my own nightly unpleasantries: a sort of grey area between lucid dreaming and astral projection. The phone call was mostly silent on her end.
When I was finished, she sighed and remained silent for about a minute before asking me if I thought it meant anything. I told her I wasn’t sure. She told me a bit more about her dreams taking a pause about midway through to light a cigarette. I listened, jotting down notes and flipping through some of the documents I’d already previously set aside, looking for something that might resemble what she was talking about. She asked me not to talk about her dreams on the podcast… at least not yet. I’d consider Brianne a friend and powerful ally and I’m also – and I’m sure this might come as a surprise – a human being, so I’m going to stay true to my word until she tells me otherwise.
I thought a lot about my own experiences. It can’t be a coincidence that we both started experiencing these things around the same time, and I got to thinking more about lucid dreaming. If you’re not familiar, Wikipedia defines lucid dreaming as:
“A dream during which the dreamer is aware that they are dreaming. During a lucid dream, the dreamer may gain some amount of control over the dream characters, narrative, and environment; however, this is not actually necessary for a dream to be described as lucid.”
I did a lot of research on the subject, and not just on Wikipedia. There are lots of techniques and bits of technology that have been created over the years that are designed to induce lucid dreaming. There are some that achieve this effect by means of sleep deprivation or by interrupting REM sleep patterns, while others rely on the use of psychedelics.
One of the most common practices though, something that dates further back than any of these other techniques, is ritual hypnosis. This technique goes by other names as it’s practiced today, and often the ritualistic nature is cut out in favor of traditional hypnosis techniques. Hypnosis is said in some circles to be the most powerful way to naturally induce lucid dreaming. Others say it doesn’t work at all, but it’s said by those who believe in it that these are just cases of poor hypnosis. They also say that it’s important to bring an artifact with you: something to remind you that you are in a dream. Flashing lights, noises, and smells can also follow you into your dreams, and can be used in place of an artifact.
I feel strange considering it, but it seems so far to be the only viable option. Is it possible for either of us to take control of these dreams? If not to stop what’s happening, maybe just to learn a bit more about it.
The following story comes from an unmarked envelope that I found in one of the boxes by absolute chance… or maybe blind luck. Lately it’s been feeling like the boxes are sort of pushing these documents to the top.
There’s no post mark on the envelope so I can only assume it was hand delivered. It’s interesting that Ron had so many people come to him for help, and it seems like sometimes he actually helped them. I’m not sure what to make of that anymore.
I think I can date the document down to the the early two thousands, but the bulk of it seems to have taken place sometime between the late eighties and early nineties. It reads as follows:
To tell this story properly I have to set the stage, and it would just so happen things started out on one. It was the big, dusty, sticky wooden stage in our high school auditorium. It’s actually pretty silly when you think about it; Alex and I weren’t actually drawn together by our mutual love for drama or the theater, we kind of hit it off because we both hated it. What I had thought was an easy way to score an extra elective turned out to be a giant pain in the ass. I really tried to like it, and when that didn’t work I tried my best to pretend to.
Alex saw right through it. I think that’s actually how she broke the ice; she told me I looked miserable and when I confessed that I was, she scanned the room and then slipped me a flask. I’d expected vodka, but it was some type of peach schnapps and when I took a swig – coughing and almost retching – she just smiled and patted me on the back. I didn’t know it yet, but I had just met my best friend.
She was just the right amount of bad. She’d pick me up in the school parking lot in her beat up old Geo Metro and we’d skip theater class, smoke cigarettes, and pick up fast food. Sometimes we’d skip the whole school day… just get buzzed and go lay in a field somewhere or wander through the woods.
But she was also there for me when I got sick. She picked up my class work, talked to my teachers, and even got some other kids to take notes for me to follow. More importantly though, she visited me. She visited me almost every day.
She’d bring me things from the vending machine – snacks and sodas and gum – until I didn’t want things from the vending machine anymore. And then she decided I collected stuffed penguins. Sometimes I’d wake up to find a new one staring at me from the foot of my hospital bed. It’s funny, she must have gotten desperate because I remember the last one she gave me… it was pitiful. He was a thrift store find, the fabric on his belly more yellow than white, one eye missing, the tag on his backside was written on with permanent marker: the name Fred. We decided that was the name of the penguin, not the name of his previous owner. Fred the Penguin was my favorite.
I got sicker after that. They say you have to before you can get better. I saw Alex less and less. Not because she’d stopped visiting, I just spent more time asleep, more time in treatment, more time on too many drugs to consider myself conscious.
But I remember the last time Alex came to visit me in the hospital. She told me about lucid dreaming: what it was and how people did it. She said that the biggest roadblock in our dreams was not realizing that they were dreams. If we were able to remove that roadblock, to somehow remind ourselves that we were dreaming, we could control our dreams. We could do anything we wanted.
She also told me about dream telepathy: people communicating with each other through their dreams. She was so excited about it. It was first documented by Sigmund Freud of all people. He believed it was real (or at least Alex seemed to think he did). She told me people do it all the time just completely on accident. Sometimes people mistake it for mind reading or think they are having premonitions. Some psychics have even based their whole careers off of it.
Alex had this idea that if we could learn how to take control of our dreams, we could use them to communicate with each other. I wouldn’t understand why she was so interested in this until a few days later.
I woke up to a chair pressed up against my bed. Sitting in the chair was a cardboard box and sat atop said box were a few folded pieces of paper. I can’t tell you the exact words (it’s been so long now) but I can sum it all up pretty easily: by the time I was reading this, she would already be on a bus, riding halfway across the country to stay with her dad for the summer. Alex never told me about her dad. I think her parents divorce was a sore subject. She didn’t tell me about this either.
I was surprised, but not hurt the way she thought I’d be. She felt like she was abandoning me. She wasn’t. I just wish she had told me so I could have told her it was all okay, that I would hang in there until she got back. I wasn’t going anywhere.
Along with the letter was a set of instructions, instructions for what to do with the things I’d find inside the box. What I found inside the box was… somewhat strange.
There was a cassette player and beside that was an odd little plastic box with a button and a plastic lens on it. There was also a hand drawn picture of a penguin with its eyes closed: little Z’s over his head to signify that he was sleeping.
I’m not sure how I explained away this strange gift to my parents later on. That memory is sort of lost to time. But that night, as I sat there alone, said goodnight to the nurse and flipped off the television, I read over the instructions again.
“The box will flash a blue light every sixty seconds. Don’t worry, it’s not bright enough to wake you up, just bright enough that you can see it in your dreams. Place it with the lens facing your side so it only flashes in your peripheral vision. Put on the headphones and make sure the volume is about halfway, then press play on the tape. Close your eyes and listen to everything the woman on the tape tells you to do. Don’t open your eyes until the woman on the tape tells you to. If everything goes right, you’ll be asleep.
“The flashing blue light will remind you that you’re not in the waking world, and once you know you’re in a dream you can control it. It can be disorienting at first and confusing, but just remember: whenever you see the blue light in the corner of your eye, it means you’re not awake. Never trust anything if you see that light. Not even me. I’ll be waiting for you in my dreams.”
I did as the instructions said. I put on the headphones, flipped on the light box, closed my eyes, and pressed play.
The woman’s voice was soothing. She guided me through some breathing exercises and after every 2 or three lines I’d hear this ringing noise: like a bell, but more like a cheap keyboard sound effect rather than an actual bell. The voice guided me deeper and deeper and the ringing sound felt closer and closer, like it was enveloping me. The blue light flashed faster and faster… and then it gradually slowed down and the ringing faded. Everything was silent for just a moment before the voice spoke up again.
“You can open your eyes now.”
My pulse was racing. I slowly opened my eyes, only at first it was like I hadn’t. Everything was dark, but as my eyes adjusted to the light, my surroundings slowly began to fade into view. I was still in my hospital bed, only it was different. Everything had a layer of dust on it. Cobwebs littered the corners, broken glass glimmered on the ground in front of the smashed television set that was mounted on the wall to my left. Everything was dark, painted with a palette of brown and grey. Something flashed in the corner of my vision and I tried to follow it with my head, but it stayed just in the corner of my vision. It was the flashing blue light. I was in a dream but it felt like a nightmare.
I carefully guided myself out of bed, too anxious to relish the ease in which I was able to do so. I wasn’t sure what to do. Alex said I’d be able to control my dreams. I should be able to do anything I wanted, but right now all I really wanted to do was wake up.
The hallways were barren. Every door I pushed open led to another abandoned room with broken furniture and equipment, sheathed in a layer of dust. I was poking my head around a nurses station when I heard footsteps slowly making their way in my direction. I hid behind the counter, holding my breath, hoping whoever it was would pass. The footsteps got closer and closer, pausing at every room. Doors swung open one by one, smacking against the wall with a loud thud. I could feel that whoever this person was, they were looking for me. Hunting for me.
The footsteps got closer until I could hear that they were right behind me. Fingers rapped on the counter over my head. I held back tears. I felt like I was going to vomit. But eventually they passed, continuing on down the hallway.
It felt like forever before I finally got up to look around. I was alone again. Whoever that was had truly passed. They weren’t waiting for me to poke my head out, as I had initially feared. I made my way down the hallway – backtracking – going the opposite way than what the mysterious figure had gone. Down the staircase I went, blindly advancing, feeling my way down, before finally making it to the second floor and then to the main lobby adjacent to the emergency room entrance. I was making my way out of the hospital, something I had wanted to do for months.
But before I could get to the doors, I saw a figure slumped against the wall to the right of them. A sharp pain erupted in my chest and I turned on my heels, ready to run back up the way I had come, but she shouted at me to wait. I looked back to see the figure walking towards me.
It was Alex. We’d found each other… or at least I’d hoped. She took my hand and guided me through the doors, almost pulling me behind her. Outside of the hospital was a forest: gentle sunlight peeking through the soft clouds and trees. Birds sang and bees buzzed merrily, dusted in pollen from rows of wildflowers of every color.
I looked to Alex in confusion and she looked at me with what felt like pity before she spoke. She told me that this is how my subconscious viewed things. I was trapped in this dark hospital, all alone. And outside, just out of reach, I had projected this forest. It was everything that I wanted but couldn’t have. Alex and I visited the forest almost every night after that. It became a sort of addiction. While I struggled in the waking waking world – my body withering away, treatment failing to take – I flourished in this magical forest.
One night, as we sat on a bench watching fallen leaves follow the current of a shimmering rainbow river, Alex asked me if I was afraid of dying. I lied and told her that I wasn’t, but I don’t think that’s what she wanted to hear, though the truth probably wasn’t any better. Later that night we would stumble upon a cabin. It was small but on the inside it was impossibly large. We would be invited inside by a man named Oliver and we would meet his wife named Charlotte, and their son Charlie. Things would change after we met this family. This family that lived in my dreams.
Charlie became our friend. It was odd, but he also never shied away from the fact that he was a figment of my imagination. That was never a problem for either of us, but particularly not for Alex. As time passed and the summer drew to close, it became clear that Alex had a bit of a crush on Charlie (something I was more than happy to poke fun at). We never saw his parents again after that first introduction. It was as if they were just a prop to introduce us to Charlie. He never talked about them either. It was easy to brush all of this off of course, because none of them – including Charlie – were real. They were just subconscious projections, probably from some deep seeded desire to make more friends.
Summer was coming to a close and school was vastly approaching. After a series of operations my health was actually improving, but I cared less and less how my body felt in the waking world. Everything that was truly important to me happened in my dreams. I didn’t have time for my parents or to make plans for my return home. We’d spent all of these months together, at least in my dreams, so it sort of caught me off guard the first night that we didn’t.
My dream started back in the dark hospital, a place I’d only been once while in a conscious dream state. It was that first night, before I’d found Alex and discovered the dream forest. I whipped my head in circles looking for the blue light… but it wasn’t there.
I thought back to the person who was in the hospital that first night. It felt like they were looking for me, like they knew I was there. Would they know I was back? I hugged the walls as I made my way back down the familiar hallways, down all three sets of stairs, and made my way down to the lobby.
I called out to Alex. I thought she’d be waiting for me in the lobby again, and when she wasn’t, I decided to check some of our usual spots in the forest as well before making my way down the trail towards Charlie’s cabin. It was odd. The birds weren’t singing. A massive wriggling centipede rolled across a rotting log. Ants traveled in single file across a dead bird, carrying mouthfuls of decaying flesh back to their queen.
I was staring at my feet as I shuffled along the trail when I bumped in to Charlie. He looked disgusted with me, but then quickly changed his expression. He looked angry… or maybe just frustrated. He asked me why I couldn’t see my light. Something about the way he asked made me uncomfortable. I hadn’t known that he could see it. It didn’t make any sense. Instead of acknowledging his question, I asked him one of my own, one that came out more confrontational and maybe more suspicious than I intended: I asked him where Alex was.
A smile crept across his face and his eyebrows furrowed. “She has her own dreams, you know.”
I asked him if she was dreaming right now and he told me yes. I asked him if he was in that dream… and he said yes. And then he did something I’ll never forget, something that still gives me shudders when I think about it. He reached towards me with his index finger and pressed it against my forehead and whispered…
I actually did wake up, only I wasn’t in my hospital bed. It was dark. I was a quarter of a mile away on a sidewalk and before I could gather my bearings, I toppled over, smashing my head on the concrete and breaking my wrist. I don’t remember how I ended up back at the hospital, only that I was bandaged up and they were prepping for x-rays when I had the talk with my parents. I believe my Dad’s words were, “What is all this junk?”
He was fiddling around with the light box. The tape player sat in his lap, the accompanying note was unfolded in the chair next to him. I wasn’t sure how to respond. What do you say when someone confronts you about a secret that you didn’t know you were keeping?
I’d kept all those things in the box Alex gave them to me in. I wasn’t really hiding any of it, but I definitely didn’t want to talk or answer questions about it either. My dad sighed; there was a pain and sadness in his eyes, but I wasn’t sure what to make of it yet. He asked me if I knew what was going on. He put his hand over mine and asked me where I was going and how I’d fallen. I was confused.
I’d find out later that none of the security cameras had picked up my departure, not in any of the hallways or exits, and no one at the front desk had seen me leave. It was as if I had disappeared, only to reappear falling face first onto that sidewalk. My parents waited until the next day to ask me some of the more serious question. A Detective sat in as well. The questions they asked me I hadn’t really been able to answer, at least not yet.
They asked me about Alex, if she said anything to me before she’d left to spend the summer with her father (besides the note she had left). They asked if she was in any trouble, if she was upset about anything, if she had a boyfriend. My mind lingered on that last question; I’d thought of Charlie.
Alex hadn’t been seen in a few days.
I think everyone knows the next part of the story. The search parties, the news coverage, her parents begging anyone if they know anything to come forward. But there’s a secret part to this story that I’ve never told anyone. The next night I went to sleep normally for the first time in months. No tape, no flashing blue light. I didn’t want to go back. I didn’t know yet that I didn’t have a choice anymore.
Alex sat on a bench in front of the hospital. The forest behind her looked lifeless, the clouds just a fraction darker. She looked up at me and rolled her eyes. She told me she could never tell me where she’d gone. Her and Charlie had run away to be together. I told her that wasn’t possible. Charlie wasn’t real; her family was real. I was real.
She laughed. She said that he was real. She had met him outside of the dream world. He was sweet to her. I was just jealous.
She left me sitting on the bench alone. Staring up at the dark hospital. Up in one of the windows on the third floor, I saw someone staring back.
Wherever it is you go in your dreams, you’re not always supposed to remember it. You’re not supposed to be a part of it or interact with it. I don’t think Alex ever came back from it. I think if you spend too long in there, you’ll forget what its like on the outside and you might leave your body behind for something else.
Its been a long time. I’m not 16 anymore. I’ve been cancer free for 9 years. I’m a grownup now with grownup responsibilities. I take a sleep aid; I don’t remember my dreams anymore. I’m always terrified of going back there. I did go back once, when I was 20, but the cabin wasn’t there and neither was Alex. Sometimes I turn the light box on. I face it away from me and I picture my friend finding it and coming home.
The reason I’m writing all of this and telling this story to a paranormal investigator after all these years is because something strange happened to me just the other morning. I woke up to find my bottle of sleeping pills empty, the bottle resting in the sink. There was a note resting above the tap written in familiar handwriting. It said:
“Come find me.”
Thank you for listening. I’ll update you next week on my experiences with lucid dreaming. Until then, sleep tight.