Everything was white – almost blindingly white – while a rainbow of alternating pale and neon colors swirled in my peripheral vision. I looked around until I spotted two figures in the distance. One was clearly Brianne. All I could make out of the other was his khaki suit. Although they were far away, I heard them as if they were speaking directly in my ear, rattling in my head. A deep, masculine voice was talking, but something seemed off as it spoke.
“You – you’re the sister! I found you! I can’t believe it!”
Several small pieces of white paper floated around me, each with some writing and a crimson smudge on it. I grabbed at one of them to find it was a card, colored with dried blood and containing the message “I’m saving you for last, Brianne.” The message took some focus to see and kept fading away the moment I stopped concentrating on it. I looked past the card at the two figures, still impossibly far away. Brianne’s voice seemed to ripple into me as I started running towards the two of them.
“I don’t know who you are, but you’re scaring me.”
My heart began to pound as I felt her fear in my veins. I started to hear things as I got closer, like I was slowly getting sucked into a vortex of nightmares. There were monsters here. I knew that. I could sense them just in my periphery; I just couldn’t see them. The colors just at the edge of my vision were phasing in and out with objects of substance: the red turned to bloodied intestines, the yellow became a steady stream of animalistic eyes, and the purple and green combined to form rotting, diseased flesh.
His voice grew louder, more powerful. “You don’t remember me? I thought… then why are you here?”
I could tell Brianne wanted to sound confident… but I could also tell the nightmare was getting to her. “I came to stop you.”
Like a switch, we were no longer in a blank space full of swirling colors and gore, and I was jolted to a stop as I reoriented myself in this new space as his once khaki suit morphed into darkness. We were now in a long, dim hallway. Broken, frosted glass littered the floor beneath empty light fixtures on the ceiling. Brianne and the man stood at the end of a long, curved hallway lined with dark glass windows. Wind whistled through a crack in one of the nearby windows.
“You think you can stop me?”
His voice boomed, reverberating through my body. I took a step forward, bits of broken bulbs crunching beneath my foot. His head snapped to face me, then turned back to Brianne. “Who did you invite?” he seethed.
Suddenly, the windows were no longer dark. They never had been. Each window presented a glimpse of a different place. Some looked normal, but others were… unlike anything I’d ever seen before, and like nothing I could even explain or describe. Without warning, he grabbed Brianne’s arm then ran and dove through the window behind her, the shattering glass echoing down the hall. I ran to catch up and follow them. Whatever was on the other side seemed to be getting sucked into this place. As I drew closer, I saw that it was sand. With the sand blasting my face and spreading down the hall, I couldn’t see anything before taking a leap of faith.
Wind howled around me as I fell through the sand, trying perfervidly and in vain to find something to grasp while simultaneously bracing myself. There was nothing, and sand pressed into me on all sides, immobilizing my limbs and squeezing my lungs. Without warning, I hit the ground backwards with a thud that knocked the wind out of me. I reached up to wipe the sand off my face as I regained my breath and looked around. We were back in Hellhole Canyon. Brianne was lying on the ground and I was next to her, but both of us were slightly out of focus. Groaning metal echoed in the distance and the sound of something large was fast approaching overhead. I looked up to see a dark shape blotting out the stars and quickly growing larger. I tried to jump out of the way, but I reacted far too late to make a difference. Instead, at the last second I heard Brianne grunt from behind and the car that was about to crush me flew to the side and crunched into a large boulder beside me.
I spun around in time to see the man yanking Brianne off a ledge. I climbed up as quickly as I could to try to follow them but, as I reached the edge myself, I found that it was about a twelve foot drop down to more rocks. Survivable if you were prepared and in good shape, but Brianne wasn’t even in shape to be walking right now. I didn’t see them anywhere though, and that’s when I noticed it. A bird flew past, disappeared for an instant before continuing where it left off, flying a few feet, then for a split second I could swear there were two birds before one disappeared and the other continued off again. It was like this one area was out of sync with the rest. I glanced back at my shimmering body, took a breath, and jumped off the edge, bracing myself for a rough impact.
Faster than I could register, I heard more sounds than I’ve heard in my life, an eternity of life swirling around me in an instant… then it all went quiet again as I found myself falling atop sand, now back inside the large, circular hallway. Just as I looked up, the man was shattering another window and diving through it, Brianne in tow. I stumbled to my feet and followed suit.
This time, instead of sand, I felt myself being overwhelmed by a sense of darkness. I’m not sure how else to explain it. The darkness was thick, palpable. I could feel it crawling over my skin, touching every part of me, and sucking me into it. I found myself struggling to breathe again. Then I was on a cold, dusty laminate floor. With much effort, I got up and looked around me, searching for any sign of Brianne or the man who was pulling her from dream to dream. It looked like I was in an abandoned lab or doctor’s office of some kind. On one side was a bench with microscopes and test tubes, and on the other side was a sink and a padded chair… with leather straps. Scattered across the floor between the two sides were old papers that were all blank save for a marking in the corner: a seven-digit hand with an eye in the middle of the palm. Whatever this place was, it wasn’t anywhere I wanted to be. I took a step forward and almost fell as something underfoot slid. I looked down to find a bloodied scalpel.
I reached down and picked it up. The blood was fresh. Looking back down at the ground, I saw a trail of blood leading to a set of double doors with an unlit and cobweb-laden exit sign over top. His voice suddenly filled my ears, startling me.
“Do you remember me now? It was here, so long ago, that we met. You and your brother got out. You were the lucky ones. Not me, though. I had to stay, to stay awake, to stay thinking, to stay watching and bleeding and cursing every second of my life while they cut me open and put in and took out whatever they wanted. The things they did to me, to my mind, to my body… and I still can’t sleep! The only rest I can get is in your head, in their head, while they sleep. The ones like me. Like us.”
I heard Brianne reply in horror, “You were awake… the whole time?”
I moved past the double doors and found myself in what appeared to be a hospital hallway, but with one key difference. Eyeballs in sizes ranging from baseballs to watermelons hung several feet, the thick, glistening optic nerves appearing to grow out of the ceiling itself. The eyes one by one turned to look at me. I fought past the shiver of fear rippling down my spine to look past them to the opposite wall. There was a sign: left to the cafeteria, right to the subject’s rooms. On a hunch, I turned right, crouching as I ran under the hanging eyes.
“Every goddamned second. I felt every tear of their scalpel. I thought it would be worth it, that they would be able to fix me. But here we are! I still have to hunt for the next person I can use to finally get a single drop of sleep.”
“You’re killing them,” I shouted in no particular direction. “You’re killing her!”
The trail of blood was getting thicker. His voice whispered in my ear, “You’re just determined to be a pest, aren’t you? Let’s find out what happens when you keep poking.”
At the end of the hallway was a door with a large, reinforced window and just below that, a crash bar. The blood disappeared underneath it. I stood and broke into a full run, disregarding the eyeballs that squished against my skin, and burst through the door to find myself outside in an open field of rolling hills and dying grass. Sunlight was blotted out by gray clouds near the horizon, dulling the sunset.
I heard shuffling behind me and turned to see my wife standing there, gazing down numbly at a tombstone. It was mine. I suddenly felt very cold. I’d been so certain of what I needed to do in that moment – to find the killer, to save Brianne, to help Ron. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the cost.
It was Brianne’s voice, echoing to me from every valley.
“It’s not real. Don’t believe whatever lie he’s trying to tell you. You’re not where you think you are.”
I couldn’t respond to her to tell her that I knew, deep down, this was something he was showing me. But it felt so real. The pain of watching a tear roll down my wife’s cheek with no other semblance of emotion visible was destroying me.
“Look at the ground.”
It was Brianne again. With much effort, I tore my eyes away from my wife and looked down. It was just dead grass and dirt. I don’t know what she expected. After a moment, I noticed it was a little more than that, though. It almost seemed too… liquid. I reached down and scooped up a handful of dirt. It instantly poured – not crumbled – out of my hand. Beneath the dirt was laminate flooring. I carefully scooped up another bit of dirt – this time with two hands – then flung it beside me. It stopped in midair, as if it hit an invisible wall, then suddenly the wall was no longer invisible.
Blood oozed down a white cinder block wall where the dirt had just been. I looked down to find my hands dripping wet, crimson. Blood coated the floor and small splatters of it contrasted with my light gray running shoes. I was standing in another hallway, this one far shorter. Three metal doors lined both sides of the hall, each with its own small sliding grate at roughly face-level. It reminded me of doors to solitary confinement cells. The two doors nearest me, the ones I could see well enough in the dim light, had names on them: Benjamin and Brianne. I was standing in their childhood.
I heard a sound at the far end of the hall that I’d only ever read about before in the papers. It was quiet, but unmistakable. There was another door at the end of the hall that was identical to the one I had entered through. Through the reinforced glass I could just make out the source of the sound – a tongue slowly sliding along the window.
I froze. This was so much more than I had signed up for. Or was it? Suddenly something on the other side of each of the six metal doors began urgently pounding against them at the same time. I turned back and tried to open the door, hoping to find a way out of there, but the handle wouldn’t budge – it was completely frozen in place.
I heard a click behind me and turned back to find the door at the far end was slowly opening. I resumed my efforts with futile desperation as I put all my weight against the door handle. It didn’t move, not even a millimeter. Adrenaline pumped through my veins as I once again faced the hallway. The other door was wide open now and the Licker slowly approached. It’s like it knew I was cornered and it could take its time with me.
As it moved closer, I noticed something. Just like in the desert, when it moved a certain way, it was out of sync with everything else. For a split second, it was like there were two of them, then suddenly it would just be one again. I balled my hands into fists to steady my shaking hands as I steeled myself. I remembered that image of my wife and the emptiness on her face. It wasn’t going to happen, not today, I determined. I ran straight forward – directly at the Licker.
It didn’t take long, just a few strides, really. One moment I was a mere two feet away from it – close enough to feel despair radiating from those unblinking eyes, to reach out and touch the dark skin – and the next I was stumbling back into the round hallway. My momentum propelled me directly through the jagged edges of another empty window.
I was immediately falling, but it felt different. I was falling and flying at the same time, tumbling freely through a pitch void. Then he was there. A pink mist shot out from behind him, followed by stars, then planets, then entire galaxies. The Dream Killer and Brianne stood there, silhouettes against the backdrop of the universe. He raised his hands and sneered as thunder boomed, reverberating through my body. “You think you can fight me? This is my life! You can’t take this from me!”
I yelled Brianne’s name.
Suddenly his face was inches from mine as drops of water (I guess you could call it rain) flew in every direction. He spoke without addressing me and his lips remained still. “Who are you? What tasty secrets are in this mind?”
His eyes burned my own to look at and I raised my hand to shield my face.
“No!” Lightning shot through the planets as Brianne yelled in defiance. “He is not yours and my head is not your plaything! This is not your world anymore!”
He spun around and extended a hand towards her, his black fingers growing to quickly close the gap of at least ten feet between them until they easily pierced her gut as if skin and flesh were nothing but air and water. She cried out as blood seeped from wounds still plugged with his long, boney fingers. He flicked his hand and she instantly flew backwards, spinning aimlessly through the stars, a trail of blood floating in her wake. As her blood drifted away, it seamlessly transformed into clusters of yellowed teeth. I instinctively tried to jump and found myself falling after her. I attempted to call her name but I couldn’t get any words to leave my mouth. I felt the air being sucked out of me. His voice pounded in my head.
“Oh, this is an interesting one. So many thoughts, so much to see that is hidden… even from himself. Hello, Jeremy.”
I felt sparks of electricity flick through parts of my body and mind as his fingers inched closer to me. They brushed my head and I suddenly felt an intense pressure in my skull. He was digging in my brain! The colors around me stopped being colors and started being first flavors, then sounds. I was at his mercy – helpless as he dug into me. We were going to lose. We were going to die. I closed my eyes and focused on one word.
I opened my eyes to find she was directly in front of me, pounding the air as it warped around her, trapping her. I reached through it with much difficulty and grabbed her hand. The pressure in my head went away. The air stood still; the planets froze; the stars grew bright. We descended together until we were level with him.
I felt something crackling and glanced at Brianne to see that she was covered in static and seemed to somehow be growing… louder – but without saying a word. Her presence was noise and I felt it radiate from her to me. She squeezed my hand and I felt us both becoming stronger. We were connected in that moment, but I couldn’t explain how – I think her psychic abilities were affecting me, or maybe enhancing what was already there.
He didn’t hesitate with his response. Planets disintegrated behind him and started to feed into him, becoming a part of him. He grew as dust and rock swirled together until he blotted out the stars. Without looking, I whispered to Brianne, “What’s the plan?”
She didn’t respond. I don’t think she had one. He towered above us, stretching as high as a skyscraper, a blurry figure of darkness. In a blink, he would wipe us out, any second now. I could hear it in his thoughts.
“Do you know how good it feels to enter these minds? It feeds me, gives me rest, makes me stronger. And what does it even matter in the end? People going through such dull lives. The only excitement they even feel anymore is when I tinker with their dreams, whispering in their sleeping ears. And you, for even a second, think you can do anything to-”
He stopped in mid-sentence. In a blink, he was gone. The maze of dark galaxies had vanished with him. Instead we were in the desert once more. Awake.
There was an echo across the canyon and a ringing in my ears. I was completely disoriented and felt nauseous. It was Brianne who got up first and started stumbling towards the abandoned buildings, past the smoking wreckage of a car that hadn’t been there when we fell asleep. I struggled to my feet to follow her. We made our way down to the blue building and stopped in the sagging doorway.
Ron was standing up over the still body of the person we had only seen in our dreams. He turned to look at us as he slid something into his jacket pocket and said the only three words there were to say: “It’s over now.”
I felt like I couldn’t tear my gaze from the body on the ground behind Ron as the eyes stared blankly, the evil within them now nowhere to be found. Blood soaked his chest and a mostly clean bullet hole dotted the center of his forehead. Even now as I record this, that image is still firmly ingrained in my mind. Ron moved past us and said that we should get out of here as he stepped outside. I turned to Brianne who was still staring at the body on the ground as she held a hand to her stomach. Thinking about the fact that he’d basically been stalking her for a while now, I tried to reassure her that it really was over. He wasn’t going to be able to do anything to her anymore. We’d stood together against him in her dreams and we’d won. Judging by how she was clutching her stomach and my own splitting headache, it hadn’t been without our share of wounds.
She finally tore her gaze from him and faced me. She just looked at me for a moment, as if searching my eyes, before speaking.
“Sometimes after I wake up from a dream, I remember bits and pieces of it. Glimpses of the memories. It doesn’t always make sense, but I know that in those moments I’ve seen his face before. I think he would show up in different forms, and when he did look like himself, he was younger in my dreams; that’s why I didn’t recognize him… at first. But he knew me. Our childhoods crossed. I still don’t really remember it, but I know something terrible happened to him. I don’t know that he’s the one who holds all the blame for every death we’ve been looking into.”
She looked back down at the vacant body and continued, “I don’t know everything that happened tonight, but this doesn’t feel like victory. We didn’t win here.”
I didn’t know what to say so I just stood there, following her gaze. Finally, she turned away from the body. Somehow, she looked even more tired than before and her voice sounded worn as she spoke again. “I just want to go home now.”
The drive back was spent in silence. I couldn’t remember a time I’d been more completely exhausted and Brianne doubly so. While she slept in the backseat, I sat restlessly in the front. I thought about asking Ron what has happened, why he’d had to kill him instead of trying to apprehend the Dream Killer if that was supposedly the plan, and what had I seen him put in his pocket? The weight of the day was too much. Maybe once we were far enough away from Hellhole Canyon… but for now, my brain needed a break.
Brianne woke up as we pulled up outside her apartment. Ron got out and handed me my keys back, told me to make sure she got inside safe, then started to walk away. I was in disbelief so I called after him: “Hey, what the hell!”
He just glanced back over his shoulder and said things had to be cleaned up, then rounded the corner and disappeared. I was reaching the end of my patience with Ron and his disappearing act with little to no explanation of what the fuck was actually going on. The church, then the funeral, the documents from 4thTrumpet I still haven’t figured out how to confront him about, and now this? Sooner or later I was going to get some answers whether he liked it or not.
Brianne was asleep before her head hit the pillow, mumbling that I should go home and she was fine as she started to snore before the words were all the way off her tongue. It was probably the first time in a while she didn’t have to worry about being hunted in her sleep. I went home and, despite my own weariness, wasn’t able to find the same relief. Somehow, I knew the nightmare wasn’t over, yet.
Before I officially conclude Season 3, I need to ask for your help. If you can recall back in episode 16 this season, the episode entitled, “The Shepherds,” I received some information from someone I don’t yet know, but who 4thTrumpet vouched for.
He said the next time he communicated would be “hidden in plain sight”… that I should “keep on the lookout for a very obvious change to something both you and your listeners have access to.” Well, has anyone looked at our website lately? At thestoragepapers.com?
Perhaps it’s nothing. But if it isn’t, I could really use your help. I’ll be in touch when we get a little closer to Season 4, and if you’re on Patreon, well… I suppose you’ll be hearing from me next week.