Estimated reading time — 5 minutes
The following is a transcript of a recording that was discovered in a hospital laboratory. At the time of this submission, the cause of the incident is believed to have been a chemical leak.
Three years ago, a team of scientists figured out how to stimulate the language centers of the brain while someone was sleeping. I was on the team that came after; the team which got to use that knowledge for our own experiments. It seemed important at the time, to see what lied in the unconscious minds of everyday people.
At first, we focused on written language. We sent out advertisements, often on college campuses or online, and after sifting through the inevitable unsolicited offers, we selected the best candidates to come in for a physical exam. We wanted people who didn’t display any signs of mental issues, ones whose brains and bodies wouldn’t reject the sleeping drug we would be injecting into their system. We ended up with four hundred and thirty-seven subjects, but we culled the group down to an even four hundred. (Really, it was just an excuse to use a round number.) We separated the final subjects into groups of ten, and laid them on comfy hospital beds in warm, dark rooms so that they could sleep undisturbed.
Everyone was excited for the experiment to begin, but there were the little things to finish up first.
We gave each subject a pen and a square piece of paper, all the while laughing at their nervous little jokes. Of course we won’t judge you if you draw dicks in your sleep, we assured the college freshman with zits all over his sweaty face. Anything you write is confidential, we assured the woman with a tan line where most people wore their wedding ring. We connected them to the machine that would send a current through their brain, activating their language centers as they slept. Then, we carefully injected the anesthetic into their veins and watched them drift off. We told them all “goodnight” before leaving them to their own devices.
In a small room, the other researchers and I chatted for six hours, talking about graduate school and lab interns while the subjects slumbered in their beds. After the allotted time had passed, we went in and helped everyone up, thanked them for their service, and paid them on their way out. We had them wait in a well-lit room to wake up a bit, offering cups of coffee before seeing them off. Four hundred people drove away in separate directions, and we figured that this was the end of it. We collected their papers and pens from the bedside tables, and then we read what they had written.
We had originally theorized that people would draw abstract shapes, or scrawl out sloppy confessions that their dreams had dug up from the recesses of their minds. After all, that’s what dreams are, right? Just a mix of whatever our brains have left over at the end of the day. We thought that we would see whatever lurked in those unconscious depths; whatever cute secrets the average citizen hides in their waking hours.
Everyone, all four hundred subjects, had written one word: Help.
There had been no hesitation, no question that it was the message that they’d wanted to send. The writing couldn’t have been clearer if they’d been awake. The penmanship, down to the pressure put on the pencil, was exactly same on every sheet. We ran every scrap of paper, all four hundred pieces, next to each other, one after another. All the same, all the same message.
Of course, this was like something from an Internet horror story, so we decided to repeat our experiment on a different group. Maybe someone had contaminated the earlier group, maybe this was a mistake. It would have been the biggest screw-up in the lab’s history, but a mistake nonetheless.
We didn’t want to think about the other option.
We found a bigger subject pool this time, of one thousand people from different backgrounds and countries. We wanted the most diverse group we could gather, to avoid the prospect of having the subjects cross-contaminate each other. We even made sure that we had subjects with high, squeaky voices and low, incredible baritones. We left nothing to chance, separating them into groups of ten again, and renting out a whole hospital for this latest attempt. We tried speech this time, since faking four hundred scraps of paper would have been significantly easier than faking a thousand voices.
We laid them down again, and this time, we didn’t talk to them. We didn’t want to give them any ideas. We gave each person a pair of huge, fluffy earmuffs, so that whatever we heard from the other subjects wouldn’t disturb the rest of the room. Then, we conducted an EEG, the test with the electrodes on the subject’s head. The electrodes led to a monitor that had those stereotypical brain-waves, but also to the machine that would help us activate the language centers with the right electrical currents. We made this experiment as sterile as we could. We didn’t even say goodnight before we turned off the lights. The plan was to measure the subjects’ sleep patterns, and when they were all in REM sleep, we’d switch the machine on.
As soon as the switch was flipped, a thousand mouths opened into gaping caverns. Their tongues rose from between their lips and their voices were like dying animals. Their bodies remained as still as boards, with only their wailing to suggest that they were anything but corpses. The effort of screaming made every subject pale as chalk and sent tears down the corners of everyone’s eyes. Even behind our glass walls – with our clipboards and recording devices – we scientists felt a chill run through our spines. We only lasted ten seconds against the screaming before we cut the recording, cut the electric current, cut everything, and ushered every subject out of their rooms as quickly as we could, barely paying them. We were men of science, men of reason and knowledge and cold, calculating logic. This couldn’t be happening.
We analyzed the screams for hours, even though it hurt our souls in a way none of us could explain. Every second of screaming was agony. We went through eighteen lab technicians as one after the other vomited, even soiled themselves, trying to mess with the sound-waves. Finally, one man, through tears and snot and drool covering his keyboard, managed to slow down the audio enough for something that resembled words to be heard. He stumbled out of the lab, choking and clutching his chest, blood seeping from under his eyelids, and collapsed at our feet. Within three seconds, he stopped breathing. Within five, he was dead. No one wanted to go in to listen to what he had done after that.
At the time of this recording, I am in the lab under the desk. I hope someone finds this and listens to it, even though my hand is shaking and my body is cold and my heart… it will explode soon in my chest, a mess of ventricles and arteries, and it will all be my fault. I listened to the audio. I knew I shouldn’t have, but I did.
You helped us.
They’re here now. We should never have let them free, but they’re here now. They’re behind me. They’re [unintelligible].
Credit: Vivian Lu