Thank you for tuning in to The Storage Papers. If you’ve been keeping up with the show, you’ll probably remember that I’ve been having strange dreams, dreams where I’m sort of floating away from myself and hovering over my sleeping form, like my soul isn’t tethered to my body or even this dimension. And then in an instant, I snap back and I’m awake. If that doesn’t sound familiar, feel free to go back a couple of episodes and get caught up. I’ll still be here when you get back.
If you’re still here, then I guess you deserve an update on my experiments with lucid dreaming. So far, I haven’t exactly been successful. Since you’ve last heard from me, I’ve spent a week trying to force myself into a lucid dream. I’m not sure if this will come as a surprise, but lucid dreaming just… doesn’t work this way. It’s not something you can force, at least not without knowing what you’re doing. I’m not ready to give up, but I probably won’t give any more updates unless I see some success.
Regardless, I think I’m grasping at straws anyway. Disrupting my sleep patterns, leaving myself feeling exhausted, taking sick days just to stay at home and rest… if I’m being honest with myself, I don’t think the solution is something I’m going to find on my own. Not on the internet or in any of your emails (though trust me I’m grateful for it).
The answer is somewhere in these boxes. I just have to keep searching, and not just for myself. Brianne needs my help and after everything she’s gone through – everything I’ve done – and what happened to Ben… I owe that to her.
I’m thankful that she’s not dead yet.
Brianne casually messaged me, letting me know that she was in a car accident. Nothing major. She’s not seriously injured, just a little sore from the impact. But that’s not the point. She says she doesn’t remember driving or falling asleep at the wheel (not that you necessarily would, I presume). She woke up with her rental car in a ditch, a trail of flattened grass and a bent mile marker leading back to where she must have drifted off of the road. It’s easy to pass it off as exhaustion and carelessness, and that’s exactly what she did. I was grateful that she was alive, and she was just grateful that her insurance covered rental vehicles. She told me something, though, that I thought made this much more curious–something that kind of made me think more about alternative explanations.
She said that she left behind all of her clothes. Her wallet was in her purse and that was in a suitcase… in the closet of her hotel room. She left her necklace on the nightstand and her cell phone was still charging next to it. She left everything behind. How? Was she that exhausted? It’s certainly a possibility, but it all just seems so strange. I asked her to give me something more to work with. Anything. What she thinks she’s going to find. If she thinks that having more control over her dreams is really going to accomplish anything.
What she describes to me already sounds like lucid dreaming. I guess I just couldn’t understand what she was looking for. Eventually she told me something new, but not without some trepidation. She said she has a connection to the killer… or killers.
The face is always blurred, but usually the whole body is too. It’s like looking at someone through a Vaseline lens. Sometimes she’s on a sidewalk, other times she’s on a secluded beach… in the center a crowded shopping mall, or a forest trail with soft light sifting between the branches. She’s not alone. Other people are usually around but it’s like they can’t see her or they are ignoring her, avoiding eye contact.
A man is slowly following her. She’s never sure if it’s the same person. She can’t make out any details beyond a vague shape. When she can’t see him, she can feel him. It’s an anxious feeling, and it’s a longing feeling. A feeling in your chest or maybe in your heart, like loving someone that you hate, or like remembering old toys you grew out of. The other people in her dreams pretend not to see him, but they take steps to avoid him: changing directions, swapping to the other side of the street, or making sudden turns down department store aisles. They’re afraid of him. She can see it in their eyes and when they hold their children’s hands just a little tighter when they walk past. Sometimes when she looks back he lifts his hand and waves to her playfully.
I didn’t understand. I asked her how she knew that this was the killer, how she knew that it wasn’t just some coincidence that these people were dying in their sleep and she was having nightmares about some strange blurry man. I was hoping she didn’t have an answer, but she did. She told me that the first night that it started, he wasn’t following her… she was following him. His blurry form stood out in the crowd of people waiting to board a subway train. He waved his arm to get her attention but she was already walking closer, drawn to him. People around him would get caught in the blur emanating around him if they got too close. Like heat refraction, those little wavy blurry lines above a hot grill or an asphalt road in the summer heat.
He boarded the train and she followed, pushing through the crowd of people, hoping not to lose him. By the time she made it on to the train he was already making his way to the next car. She chased after the blurry man, shimmying between shoulders and stumbling over ankles and purses and baby strollers, from one car to the next. He stood up ahead waiting for her at last, but in her brisk pace she stumbled and fell on to her hands and knees. She must have picked up something sharp, like a piece of glass, because she cut her hand when she fell. Nothing serious, just a small prick in the center of her palm. Enough to draw blood.
When she looked up again, making her way back to her feet, she found herself alone. The man was gone and the train was empty. On the floor a few feet in front of her was a folded over piece of paper: thick like card stock, or some type of fancy stationery.
She opened it. In thick looping handwriting were 6 words:
I’m saving you for last, Brianne.
And when she looked up from the paper, dotted with the blood rolling down her index finger from her bleeding palm, she saw that she wasn’t alone anymore. The man stood there and around him stood a group of what looked like children, but all of them were hidden behind the same blur. One of the children stepped forward. She could make out her blue dress and skinny legs, and she spoke to Brianne, she told her, “We’ll all see you soon, Brianne. But now it’s time to wake up.”
And she did. Still clutching that piece of paper in her hand. Only now it was blank. She says that’s her tell. If the paper is blank, then it means she’s awake. She thinks it’s a gift from the killer. A head start. That way she’ll know when she’s asleep… and when to run.
Brianne was on her way to visit a psychic. She’d stopped at a hotel for the night, planning to drive the rest of the way in the morning. That is, before the accident. The psychic is someone whose name was in those documents: an MRI and a PET scan among other tests, done years apart. Neither of us were certain how Project Hydra was connected to the physical documents, aside from their watermarks. The only one who knew that was Ron. We had even less of an idea what the Grinner wanted with this stuff. There is a thin connection between the Grinner and Project Hydra, and it all centers — for the moment — around these medical documents.
Brianne told me one more bit of information before she got off of the phone. She said that she’d been doing some research and she couldn’t find anything on the victims’ childhoods. It’s like they didn’t exist until their late teens. That information seemed like it’d be hard to find, if not next to impossible for most of them, but it left me wondering what made her even think of this line of inquiry. So I asked her what she remembered of her own childhood. She took a while to respond. I could hear her lighting up another cigarette before she finally spoke.
“…parts of it.”
I started thinking more about kids and their relationship with dreams… and nightmares. It feels like it was so much harder to differentiate dreams from real life when I was a boy. Sort of like what Brianne is experiencing now, only we don’t have a piece of paper that tells us whether we are in a nightmare or if the monster is real. But what if sometimes we got it right? What if they convinced us it was just a dream… and we convinced ourselves… but it wasn’t just a dream? Worse yet imagine if it was both: dreams and reality bleeding together, and the monster slithering through both?
I found a document that reminded me a bit of last week’s, this sort of blurring between dreams and reality. It also made me think of Brianne and the gaps in her childhood. It’s typed and printed, and to be honest it seems almost brand new, or at least fairly recent. One day I hope to ask Ron about this one, if it’s still fresh in his memory. It’s just a couple of pages. It reads as follows.
I called it the Dream Eater.
I’m really not sure why I decided to come up with a spooky name for it or why I’d draw it in pictures as this giant ravenous beast, even though I hadn’t actually seen it that way. If I had to guess, I’d say it probably felt better to imagine that I was strong, but this thing was stronger, rather than picturing it as weak and myself just much weaker.
I turned eleven that summer. I was riding off of the high that I got from starring in an instant oatmeal commercial. I remember looking in to the camera and smiling, sitting at a kitchen table bathed in lights, with a bowl of ice cold oatmeal in my hands, and I sort of bulge my eyes out and say, “Thanks, mom!”
I guess that’s some kind of irony. Mother had shuffled me around to all of these different casting calls, and I’d sat in on all of these group auditions. She’d gotten me a bit of background work on a couple of public access kids shows, but she was convinced this was my big break: instant oatmeal with little candy dinosaur eggs that opened up when you poured in hot water. I never actually got to try it. Mother was pretty strict about my diet, especially when it came to sugar.
Years later I’d be chosen to play a minor role in the pilot for a teen sitcom about a high school baking club or something called “Sugar, High.” My role would’ve been the guidance counselor always looking out for the main character, a less-than-popular girl at school who… I guess wins the whole school over one cupcake at a time… or some nonsense like that. Mother would have hated it.
She used to do laundry at night sometimes so it wasn’t out of the ordinary to hear the door creak open in the late hours. I’d usually find a bin of clean laundry in the morning. Worse than that slight invasion was her procession of male friends that would come over and occasionally poke their heads in at night while looking for the bathroom. I’d built a habit around ignoring it, blocking out their drunk giggling and… other noises.
This was sort of different though. I’m not sure how long I let myself believe it was nothing. The door would slowly inch open and a shadow would stretch across the floor, growing taller as the dim light from the hallway made its way in to my room. I’d feel lightheaded. Dizzy. Like the whole room was on its side, my vision doubling, and then everything was so blurry and splashing all around me in waves. The shadow would make its way closer and closer and I could see a hand reaching out towards my face.
And then I’d wake up, and it’d be the morning.
I could sometimes see it leaving, sometimes carrying or dragging something heavy behind it, but by the time I’d gathered my bearings, it’d be gone. At first it was easy to pretend it was just nightmares. That’s what mother led me to believe. I was homeschooled and this was back before the internet when your parents were still the authority on everything, so if she said something I’d try my best to believe it was true. Actually, I don’t know that I ever really thought that was true. The nightmares… I think I just wanted to believe it. Not because it made things any easier, but because I just needed to trust Mother, to know she was always right.
I started to get sick all the time. It was sort of like the flu. My muscles and my joints ached, I was always so tired, and some days I could hardly hold down a glass of water without vomiting. My skin turned pale, dark bags under my eyes, purple and yellow bruises littered my arms and legs. I didn’t think at the time that I should have seen a doctor. I had complete faith in Mother and she never took me to see a doctor.
I remember once, I was running up and down the steps, swinging around this toy fighter jet that I’d attached to a shoestring, and I managed to hit myself in the face with it. Blood trickled down my chin and she blotted it up with a wet rag. The needle poked through my upper lip. She told me to hold still, my legs dangling from the kitchen counter. It’s hard to remember, but I think she stitched my lip up with dental floss. She needed a strong drink to keep her hands still, I do remember her saying that.
The reason I’d started calling it the Dream Eater… I’d made up this whole backstory for it. What I thought it looked like. Where it came from. And what I thought it was doing. I hadn’t had a single dream since I started seeing it, at least not that I knew of. It just made sense to me that this monster made of shadows crept in to my room at night, just as I was drifting off, and swallowed up my dreams. It sounds stupid now, even to me, but when I was ten years old this was absolutely real. I firmly and truly believed this. I don’t anymore.
I started seeing more of the monster. Not just more often, but more of it. It wasn’t the hulking black beast that I thought it was, but it had these giant bulging eyes and it’d skulk slowly in to my room.
I remember it grabbing at my arms with its leathery hands and pushing its face in to mine. My vision was blurred and I could hardly make out anything but those big empty eye sockets. And it told me something. It spoke for the first time.
“It’ll all be over soon.”
It wasn’t too much longer after that night that the visits stopped abruptly. Weeks went by, and then a month, and I started feeling better. I started eating normally again and feeling like myself. Mother would unfortunately overdose on morphine soon after. I’d find her underneath the water in the bathtub and I’d call 911. She’d leave behind a note, but I’d never get to read it, even though I know it was meant for me.
My Aunt Becky didn’t take me to auditions. I didn’t hear from any more talent scouts or booking agents after that (at least not for a while) but after I graduated high school she’d promised to pay my tuition. I went to a university, looking to follow my dreams as an actor, but I dropped out a month or two in to my second semester. I wouldn’t find my way back to acting until I was picked up by an agent while doing stand up comedy. She thought I was funny and wanted to know if I’d audition to play a guidance counselor in the pilot for a cheesy teen sitcom called “Sugar, High,” and of course I said yes. It wouldn’t get picked up, but it got me noticed and it got me work.
About six months ago the dreams started. There aren’t enough bottles of Jack or bars of Oxy to make them stop. All these years later and my brain has decided I’m finally ready for the truth. In my dreams I see it so clearly. I see all of it, everything I sheltered myself from. There’s a hissing sound and I look around before I realize it’s coming from the vent on the ceiling above my bed. I feel dizzy, everything is moving and swaying.
I hear Mother out in the hallway talking to someone. Their voices are muffled, like they are talking into plastic cups. I can’t make out much of what they are saying except for one phrase that Mother keeps saying: “This has to be the last time.”
It walks in to my room. Only it’s not a ravenous black shadow or a mutant fly creature. It’s a man wearing a gas mask. He shouts back out in to the hallway, telling whoever else is out there not worry. That I’m “out like a light.”
He brushes my hair back and puts his hand on my shoulder and whispers in to my ear.
“It’ll all be over soon.”
My vision is in and out after that. More men come in gas masks and they carry along cases of equipment. Throughout the night they poke me with needles and IV drips, cover me with wires and telemetry leads. There’s this helmet that’s covered in multi-colored wires and blinking lights. I don’t get a good look at it before they place it over my head. Some of them behind screens or monitoring scrolling charts of paper, a needle jumping up and down, marking them with black ink.
They don’t seem to care that I’m looking at them, sometimes even making eye contact. They know I won’t remember any of this. Whatever it is that they drugged me with will see to that. After some time they disconnect everything, dismantle their equipment, and pack everything up. The sun begins to rise and makes its way through the curtains in yellow-grey light.
Mother walks in to my room, after all of the men have left, and she kneels by my bedside and cries. A man in a beige suit comes in and puts his hand on her shoulder. With his other hand he removes an envelope from his jacket pocket and lowers it to her. The envelope is small but its thick and if I had to guess, I’d say it’s full of money. I think I’ll always wonder how I was able to let this memory stay dormant in my brain. I’ll probably also always wonder what made it bubble up to the surface
Mother was pushy and overprotective and selfish, but I don’t think she would have let this happen to me without a fairly good reason. Then again, money makes people do some pretty awful things.
Can I ask you a question, listener of the show? If someone needed your help and you thought you were the only one who could help them, how far would you go to do it? I think in some ways I blame myself for what happened with Malcolm. If I’m being honest, you’d have to try really hard to paint a picture of those events where I’m not to blame.
Brianne’s accident scared me a lot more than it scared her. It reminded me a lot of what I read about it in last week’s episode. There’s a woman out there who traversed the dream world as a young girl and lost a friend in it. Something else happened to her as she was dreaming: she was forced out of a lucid dream and woke up on a sidewalk. Her body disappeared from her bed and reappeared in a relative distance to where she was in her dream. She broke her wrist falling when she woke up. I wondered if this is what happened to Brianne, only instead of reappearing on a sidewalk, she reappeared on the highway… driving.
The author never put her name in the story. Maybe that was on purpose so people didn’t do what I did next. I couldn’t search for her but I could search for information on her missing friend. I began doing just that: searching for missing teenage girls named Alex or Alexandria, looking at hundreds of newspaper clippings and obituaries until I found something that sounded close. Only it wasn’t what I’d expected.
It was a blog post, a short and less detailed recounting of the story I shared last week. It wasn’t hard after that to track down the author, or at least their email and some social media accounts. I asked her some questions over email: if she could help me to control my dreams, if Brianne’s experiences were anything like her own. I asked her about Charlie, and the man in the khaki suit, and if she had ever seen something in her dreams like Brianne described: someone who was all blurred out.
Instead she sent me the name of a doctor and recommended a prescription for a certain type of sleeping pills. She said they put you so deep under that they can’t get to you and that they’d keep me safe… and keep me sane. I sent her another email, but it came back undeliverable. I decided to leave it at that and let her try to move on.
Thank you again for tuning in to The Storage Papers. Remember… the next time you have a nightmare… you might just be remembering something that you really just want to forget.