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-
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.