Estimated reading time — 8 minutes
Unsent email found in a fifth floor office of the Morpheus-Delta Research Facility. Account belonged to Cal Rooker, Security Chief.
– Subject: RE: back from vacation! –
Sorry I haven’t got back to you in so long. Been real busy over here.
Glad you had fun in Jamaica. We got your card all right. Ginny was tickled pink. She’s not used to people remembering her birthday (I’m a forgetful ass myself). I gave her a kiss for you. I think I’ll have to take a rain check on our golf game this weekend though.
How’ve I been? Oh, not so good. Things have pretty much fallen apart over here. I got promoted to Security Chief last week, which means I got to see more of the project than the other grunts on my team, which means I had to keep my lips shut tighter than everyone else. Pay was great, but it meant watching more than my fair share of the volunteers’ violent reactions to taking dream-jaunts. The paperwork always said “fatal seizure,” but if you ever saw one you’d know it was bullshit. They gave sweet ol’ Gary a dream-jaunt on Tuesday and he took a pair of scissors to his eyes and died of shock. “Fatal Seizure.” Sometimes it’s like they’re trying to crawl inside themselves to escape something horrible. Turns out that’s not far off.
Dr. Eddings and Dr. Pearson are dead now, so confidentiality is out the window. Better take notes ‘cause this’ll definitely help you with your writer’s block.
I don’t remember the proper name for the thing, but the docs called it the Dreamcatcher. It’s a prototype machine that translates brainwaves into images, like how you plug a VCR into your television so you can see what’s on the tape: you plug yourself into this gizmo and watch your subconscious mind like you’re watching home movies. Dr. Hayworth invented it — that yahoo in charge of the Morpheus-Alpha medical colony. Hayworth wanted to find a sure-fire way to treat and even CURE all mental illnesses. If his Dreamcatcher worked as well as ours did, then it’s no surprise why they carpet-bombed his facility last year. But I’ll get to that, don’t worry.
As the security chief I sometimes got to accompany the docs to the lab in the back of the facility. At the far end of a poorly lit corridor screaming “Nazi bunker” is a pneumatic door that requires a six-digit code and a security card to open. On the other side is a small gray room wall-to-wall with electronics equipment and glowing white and red buttons. On the furthest wall of the room another security door and a big glass pane look into a small, brightly lit, white-tiled room where the ‘Catcher itself sits.
It’s crude and scary-looking: a reclined dentist’s chair sits beneath a round, silvery screen suspended from the ceiling. The screen is framed by a ten-foot metal ring lined with wires and glass tubes. Subjects are strapped into the chair with a dozen wires pasted to their heads and chests — during dream-jaunts they look like they’re about to be executed by the state.
The most common problem with the ‘Catcher is after a single dream-jaunt most subjects die from shock or suicidal mania, and the docs couldn’t figure why. That’s why the Morpheus-Delta team drafted AIDS and cancer patients for their project: their philosophy was that these people are all going to die anyway, so what difference will it make? The “volunteers” were never told about the deaths, of course. And the docs were real pieces of work. I kill one guy during the war and ten years later I’m still drinking it out of my memory; Eddings and Pearson must’ve killed two people a week and didn’t bat a fucking eye.
Their favorite subject was Nikki, an eleven-year-old albino girl. Real cute, real smart, real creative. She played violin and piano and composed the prettiest tunes you ever heard. Nikki had bad dreams just about every night: I’d see her walking around the halls when she should’ve been in bed, whispering she was afraid to be alone. The nurse would give her something to help her sleep and stay with her in her room ‘til she konked out. Always figured it was typical for overly creative kids. I always wanted kids, so I had a soft spot for Nikki.
I shared some ice cream with her in the cafeteria once and she told me about the dream. She was in another world where the sky was always red and yellow like at dawn. She scrambled as fast as she could across an earthy landscape full of black pits and chasms of sky as if the world was broken into floating fragments. She was always frantic and never knew why, and always inches away from falling into the sky, or into one of the hundreds of black pits. The pits were the scariest part of the dream, she said, ‘cause they made these ungodly gibbering sounds and sometimes she could see things moving around in them. The dream was so vivid she’d usually wake up screaming.
The docs were fascinated by her insomnia. They’d never met a guinea pig with recurring nightmares so potent and so consistent, so they gave her special treatment. She was the prize cow they wanted nice and fat for her trip to the slaughterhouse. They figured if the ‘Catcher could help them figure out what underlying trauma caused the dream (without driving her insane, of course) it would be a major breakthrough.
Now, you ever hear about Madison LeBroche? She was an army ranger they shipped here a couple weeks ago that knocked out two of my guys and had to be sedated and locked in a clean room. Turns out she was a security officer at Morpheus-Alpha, and the only survivor of the bombing. They’d found her sleeping like celery in the woods six miles from the colony. Eddings had her shipped here for interrogation and kept her like a prisoner until she decided to talk. I took down everything they said for Eddings’s records and saved part of the transcript for you. I think LeBroche sums up the ‘Catcher’s effect on people better than I could.
EDDINGS: “It’s my understanding you were the only survivor of the epidemic at the Morpheus-Alpha Medical Colony managed by Dr. Harding and Dr. Hayworth. Can you tell me what happened? Just in summary for now, if you like.”
LEBROCHE: “That’s what you’re calling it? An epidemic?”
EDDINGS: “Miss Lebroche—“
LEBROCHE: “Dr. Hayworth told me I was gonna help him cure cancer. He fed me sentimental bullshit about DYING CHILDREN. Then he strapped me into a dentist’s chair and dunked my head into an ocean of nightmares.”
EDDINGS: “Taking a dream-jaunt is a naturally harrowing experience, but Hayworth’s purpose was always the advancement of medical science and psych—“
LEBROCHE: “No, no, no, don’t. Don’t. No. Medical science does not use stories about suffering children to lure people into dentist chairs of horror. Did Hayworth tell you why he always strapped them down? You’re fine at first. Scared shitless, but fine. But then you start to s…you SEE things…and when it’s all over, sometimes you STILL see ‘em and you realize they can see you, too…And the first rational thing you want to do when you come back is gouge your eyes out.”
EDDINGS: “You were one of only three test subjects who survived the process. You must know if the problem was a technical failure or human error—”
LEBROCHE: “The PROCESS was the problem. The human brain can’t handle the experience. And it opens a gateway to places that were meant to stay hidden, REAL PLACES that some of us got better connections to than others. Hayworth shoulda figured that out after the first ten people lost their fuckin’ minds. Shoulda figured it out before the ‘epidemic’.”
EDDINGS: “That’s why we’re trying to improve it.”
Shit hit the fan right there. In the next moment Lebroche was on top of him screaming, “Let me outta here! Let me outta here!” and me and Greg almost needed the Jaws of Life to pry her ass off. Another shot of morphine and she was out for the night.
After the most recent “fatal seizure” I went to ask LeBroche a few questions, but she was gone. Tom was unconscious in her room wearing nothing but his briefs. I don’t know how she got out, but we couldn’t find Tom’s uniform or his security card. Brady thought she was hiding and wanted every available man sweeping the place for her, but I knew better. She must’ve slipped out during the security shift change.
This afternoon Pearson got an urgent call from Eddings that the experiment “goddamn works” and was “absolutely incredible,” and I wanted to see for myself. But when we got to the lab door, just when Pearson had her card in hand, Eddings’s voice exploded over the intercom.
“Pearson, stay out!” he screamed; then over his shoulder, “Pull the plug, goddammit! Pull the plug!”; then back to the intercom, “Stay out, do you hear me? Do NOT come in here!”
Pearson was frozen in position with her card over the swiper. She looked at me, then the intercom, then back at me. I yanked the card out of her hand and swiped it, opening the door. Five people were scrambling around in there, flinging brainscan printings like confetti, vomiting techno-jargon I didn’t understand with shrill, panicky voices. Strapped into the ‘Catcher with eight wires pasted to her head was Nikki. Her limbs trembled and twitched and her eyes bulged wide open. I couldn’t tell if she was conscious or not — they probably started drugging their subjects, hoping it’d keep them sane — but if Eddings had been in my sights the first moment I saw her I mighta planted my fist in his head.
Eddings didn’t seem to notice I was there. He saw Pearson and stuttered like an idiot for a minute and a half before anything came out what sounded like words. He couldn’t seem to keep his hands still and his face was colorless and dripping with sweat.
“We saw…saw something in the ‘Catcher…”
Pearson got excited. “She had a vision? The ‘Catcher finally caught a vision? Did you—?”
Eddings cut her off. “We SAW SOMETHING. It wasn’t…The thing’s supposed to transmit abstract imagery, dream visions. This was REAL. This was like looking through a window onto…Oh god, and something was alive in that black pit! It SAW us, Pearson! It SAW us and—”
One of the control panels on the left wall sparked and caught fire. Something started humming real loud like a guitar amp on the fritz. The big round screen flickered. One of the techies screamed that their toy was turning itself on without a power source.
The screen went pitch black and the entire lab came alive with a chorus of murmuring voices not of this earth. Something putrid and pink like raw flesh oozed out of the blackness, taking up the entire screen, and split at the middle into a pair of dribbling infant lips big enough to swallow a man whole. They opened wide to let out a long, awful howl like a hippopotamus would howl if it had no bones. A giant pink worm of a tongue lolled around inside, slapping against I don’t know how many sets of yellow, spade-like teeth.
I couldn’t tell if Nikki knew what was going on. She didn’t struggle to get free or anything. She just kept lying there, staring up at the abomination and not even flinching at the ropes of drool it dribbled on her face. Eddings ran in and tried to pull her out of the machine, but the wall of flesh came out of the screen like water bursting through a dam and filled the little white room in an instant. Eddings and Nikki were gone.
Some of the other doctors muttered prayers or cried like three-year-olds. None of us moved a muscle at first: we just stood staring as half a dozen slobbering mouths pressed against the glass, licking it with their worm-tongues and fogging it with their breath, as though the thing knew we were there and didn’t know how to get at us. When the windows flexed and cracked, we ran.
So we’re not doing so good over here right now. The volunteers lost their minds with fear, killed themselves, fell into catatonic trances. My security team was useless. We had about thirty seconds to evacuate over two thousand volunteers before the thing flooded through the lab doors, mouths foaming and dripping with spit and letting out all these noises that make me shudder in remembrance. Half of my guys took one look and froze like statues and let the thing swallow them. Jesus Christ, it’s like running from an avalanche. I can’t tell if it’s endless in size or if there’s an army of them running amok here. And the sounds it makes are worse than any of the screams. The way it gibbers and slobbers and snorts.
It overran the lower floors and trapped everyone inside; if anyone made it out, good for them. I think I’m the only one left now, hiding like a coward in Eddings’s office on the fifth floor. There’s no more screaming below and the air vents belch a nasty stench medley I can’t apply metaphors to. It’ll find me soon, and when it busts its way out and slithers into the city, God help everyone.
Please get Ginny out of the country as soon as possible. It’d mean a lot to me. Maybe you can take her to Ja
Credit To – Mike MacDee