Estimated reading time — 10 minutes
Do you ever just sit and watch your sleeping dog? Observe as their little feet run along the ground, just waving halfway in the air as they let out innocent half-gruntled barks. Have you ever just wondered what’s going on inside their sleeping minds, what they’re dreaming about? Maybe it’s a squirrel they’re chasing, or a ball. Maybe they’re simply enjoying time with their life partners, their owners, their best friends.
Or maybe what’s going on is something entirely different, lurking just beyond the realm of what we can possibly comprehend, something so terrible we’d be better off in the gleeful shadow of ignorance.
I wish I could tell you this was all just speculation, crazy ideas conjured up by a bored mind, but the truth is that I’ve seen what exists inside the mind of a sleeping dog, and it terrifies me beyond what I ever imagined possible.
* * * * * *
The idea of mind-reading itself is an old one, and while it might sound like something taken out of a science fiction novel, we do possess devices that can give a basic translation of what occurs inside an individual’s resting mind.
In reality, in a dumbed-down version of neurology, everything we think, dream and feel, is a product of chemicals and electrical signals surging through our flesh, producing a flux of ideas and emotion, which results in pretty much everything we are. With the right equipment, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to translate these impulses into text, audio, or even images.
That’s what I’ve been working on for the past decade. A device that not only reads the electrical impulses within your brain, but one that can also give a basic picture of what’s going on.
It might sound horrifying enough on its own, but don’t fall into a pit of despair. This is nothing to be used as a torture device, or to extract information from unwilling participants. This was always planned to aid these no longer able to communicate with the world surrounding them.
People suffering from locked-in syndrome, unable to speak, but fully conscious, horrified as they’ve lost the ability to interact with the people around them. The device we worked on was supposed to aid them, give them a way of talking to their friends and family, to let us know they’re still in there.
The project itself was called ‘Dreamweaver’, and came in the form of a hairnet containing hundreds of tiny electrodes, able to read the brain’s electrical signals from the surface of the skin. Much like encephalography, it read brainwaves, but unlike the standard EEG, it was also capable of translating them.
Even from the very early prototypes, we were able to pick up some vague shapes and sounds from our first test-subject, which just so happened to be me. Both while awake, and asleep, we managed to reproduce my thoughts, displaying them on a nearby monitor, and then recording them.
Awkwardly enough, the first dream happened to be erotic in nature, witnessed by all four of my fellow scientists, laughing hysterically as I was forced to confirm they were, in fact, my dreams, but regardless of how embarrassed I felt, we were all ecstatic to have taken such a massive leap forward in science.
* * * * * *
After that first, successful, but slightly awkward attempt, we decided it would be more professional to find a third party of willing, and hopefully shameless volunteers, to share both their conscious and unconscious thoughts.
A couple of weeks went by, and we recorded grainy, hardly intelligible thoughts and dreams from about a dozen people. Each aiding us in our goal to properly calibrate the Dreamweaver device, and to translate the signals.
The main problem that we quickly discovered, was that while our technology was state of the art, the human mind was simply too complex to easily translate. Too much noise, too many emotions, and an overabundance of useless information stored in our high functioning brains, all making it difficult to properly read anyone’s thoughts with a high level of accuracy.
Then, one of my colleagues suggested we take a step back, and start over with a more primitive creature. One that we can confirm have dreams, emotions and thoughts, but to a lesser extent; Humanity’s best friends: Dogs.
* * * * * *
Yes, we could’ve used more primitive primates, but that meant time had to be spent on an excessive amount of paperwork. Dogs were more readily available. I was quick to volunteer up my own best friend, Robby, as our very first, animal test subject. He spent most of his days sleeping away or eating anyway, so having us monitor his dreams wouldn’t make much of a difference.
All we needed was an endless supply of snacks, and he’d happily drift off and snore, wherever, and whenever he could. It was something I’d noticed even as Robby was a puppy, one who’d just eaten half a pizza he found lying on a bench; Swallowed in just a few seconds before I could stop him. Being a Bernese Mountain Dog pushing a hundred pounds, carrying him home, even back then, was a tremendously difficult task.
I brought him to the sleep lab, accompanied by his favorite toy, blanket, and a bag of snacks sufficient to put him into a coma for a couple of hours.
As predicted, it didn’t take more than half an hour of enough of petting and feeding, before Robby fell fast asleep on top of his blanket, snoring like a tractor, and wearing the Dreamweaver.
Now, we just had to wait for Robby to go through the stages of sleep, before finally reaching REM, the interval of dreaming.
The image appeared quickly, just vague outlines at first, hardly resembling anything more than abstract art, but as we calibrated the machine, we quickly managed to conjure an image clearer than anything we’d seen in a human being. A remarkably accurate representation of Robby’s mind, vivid beyond what we thought possible.
We saw the picture from Robby’s point of view. Him running through what looked like a narrow alley, the ground full of debris, metal and other junk. He sniffed frantically around, periodically lifting his head to reveal thick, black smoke obscuring the view above.
He stopped and barked, not a threat, but one calling out for someone, before he kept moving through the alley, and onto the main street.
Just like the alleyway, it was poorly maintained, full of cracks and covered by various trash. Most of the buildings around were on the brink of collapse, with one of them engulfed in wild flames that shot far up into the sky above.
Robby instinctively ran over to the burning building, defying his usual cowardly soul, and stood outside growling at it. Before long, a woman burst out from the front door, her clothes on fire as she screamed in a mixture of horror and agony.
He chased after her while she ran around in panic, only lying down in a hopeless attempt at extinguishing the flames. All the while, Robby barked at the fire, not understanding that they weren’t a living creature, a thing that he couldn’t scare away; He just saw something moving around the woman, hurting her, and he wanted so desperately to help.
It was a futile fight, and the woman couldn’t escape the heat. Within a couple of minutes, her skin had melted, with her hair burned away, and her own eyes turned to goo inside her skull. After what must have felt like an eternity of pain, she’d suffocated from the smoke, and fell silent on the ground.
Then Robby woke up…
He shot to his feet as he quickly inspected his surroundings, the horrible dream fading rapidly from his easily distracted mind. Once he noticed me there by his side, he immediately returned from worry to joy, violently wagging his tail and jumping up to lick my face.
I petted him, and smiled at his dumb, loyal face that had long since forgotten the dream. On the inside, however, I was filled with terror, what the hell had we just witnessed?
Right then, I wished for nothing more than to be able to verbally communicate with my dog. The device we’d invented read minds, but it did little to translate it back to animals. There were too many questions for me to even begin, the main one being how he’d come up with such a horrific scenario.
I’d had Robby since he was nothing but a tiny puppy, small enough to fit in one hand. Destruction, fire, death; These were all concepts he shouldn’t even understand, let alone have the ability to recreate in such an apocalyptic scene, a nightmare to match anything I’d ever experienced myself.
After a short discussion with my colleagues, we decided to keep Robby at the lab for a few more nights, check if the dream was a one-time event, or if they were thoughts and worries that haunted him each and every night.
Robby naturally loved the extra attention he received at the lab, and couldn’t be happier. For the next week, we kept him close, feeding him, and making sure he felt comfortable enough to spend a sufficient amount of time sleeping.
While most of his dreams were exactly what one would expect from a dog: Running through the woods, chasing butterflies and eating all the food in the world, about a third of his dreams were exactly the nightmares we’d witnessed during the first experiment. A post-apocalyptic wasteland filled with the corpses of animals and humans, just rotting away on the already broken streets, surrounded by collapsed buildings, and a sky so consumed by smoke that the sun was nothing but a faint memory.
Some of the still-standing buildings I could recognize. Landmarks from our city that Robby hadn’t even seen in his entire life, yet there they were in his dreams, as clear as my own memories of them. He saw our ancient, local cinema, our apartment building, the park, and the history museum.
He traversed the desolate streets in search of any sentient life, but only came across bones of those long since dead, debris and leafless trees looming over the streets.
Whatever had happened to the world, it had caused utter destruction beyond repair, and if humanity had endured, they were nowhere to be seen.
It wouldn’t be until the fifth recording, before Robby finally came across another person stumbling aimlessly through the ruins. He collapsed to the street before he even noticed my dog, and it quickly became apparent that he too was standing on death’s doorstep.
Robby wandered over and licked the stranger’s face, whimpering as he attempted to wake him back up. His shirt had been torn, and a partially healed, severely infected wound covered most of his bloated abdomen.
He briefly opened his eyes, and smiled weakly at the friendly creature there to see him off as he passed over to the other side of life. Once he let out his last breath, Robby lay down beside him and cried, left alone in a broken world.
Days passed and we kept monitoring his dreams. The story they told was broken into different pieces, and was hard to put together, or to understand from a dog’s point of view, but they always displayed destruction, and Robby wandering through the lonely world, hopelessly searching for someone he’d probably never find…
* * * * * *
It could have been a terrible coincidence, that my dog simply had the most creative imagination of any animal on the planet. I prayed that his dreams were mere fiction, rather than a look into our bleak future. But if the world he’d dreamed up wasn’t real, then how could he invent real places he’d never seen?
Once we’d been sufficiently horrified by Robby’s unconscious mind, we decided it would be best to confirm our findings by monitoring other pets. A control group of animals from various places in the country, all who’d lived a long and happy life with their owners, safe from all the terrors in the world.
We patiently waited as dog and cat owners signed up for the experiment, and while the pay wasn’t all that great, they were more than excited to get a quick view into their loving pet’s minds. After all, there wasn’t any harm in the project, and they were given plenty of attention and food to compensate for the new environment.
After we gathered a couple of dozen volunteers, we got to work, monitoring both their waking and sleeping minds, each for a week.
We recorded their dreams, and showed it to their owners after the fact, to prevent them from being exposed to the same nightmares we’d witnessed. Our plan was simple: if they had normal dreams, we’d just give them a copy of it on a USB stick, and if not we would blame it on equipment malfunction, and pay them their fee, no harm done.
Most of the animals showed little more than your average dog catching a stick, or a cat playing with yarn, and as we got through to the fifth, sixth and even seventh subject without another incident, we almost allowed ourselves to fall back into blissful ignorance.
But then, we saw another nightmare…
It was remarkably similar, a barren hellscape devoid of any sentient life, just pets roaming the ruins, looking for anyone to keep them company at the end of the world.
One cat dreamed of a minute society in the middle of the wasteland. Just twenty or so people clinging onto life in the middle of the immense destruction, all looking fatigued and emaciated.
Another dog saw dried out oceans only occupied by the occasional corpse submerged in the few puddles that remained. Searching for half-rotten fish and other dead animals it could feed off of.
And then, against all odds, one found the half-burned remains of their former owner. We could recognize her face as one of the volunteers, twisted in an everlasting expression of agony and confusion. Whatever she had seen, or would see in the future, would remain a mystery.
We ended the experiment there. Those lucky animals who had pleasant dreams were recorded and given to the owners, the rest were discarded, locked away on a hard drive to be kept hidden, as we apologized to the volunteers under the pretense that our equipment simply didn’t find anything, let’s just say ‘machine malfunction,’ is a popular excuse in the science community when they find something they don’t want you to know.
* * * * * *
Following the dreadfully successful experiment, we handed the recordings and device over to more appropriate scientific groups. Whether we’d discovered something about our near future or not, we needed people with better resources to deal with it. A group called Artifex quickly swooped in and took all our equipment, with the exception of the first prototype, which I’d brought home to calibrate months before the ordeal.
I decided I would check Robby’s dreams one last time before scrapping the device, hoping to find just another pleasant one I could keep as a memory.
Away from my colleagues, and the stressful setting of our lab, I fed him, and he fell asleep in my lap, wearing the Dreamweaver…
Just like before, I was presented with another post-apocalyptic world. As the hellscape came into view, Robby frantically sniffed his way through several, partially collapsed streets. He squeezed himself through a crack in a wall, entering a well-lived in building. One that had since been abandoned, filled with empty cans of food and water bottles.
In the corner, by the entrance lay a man trapped under a slab of concrete. His lower body had been absolutely crushed, but he hadn’t bled out, as the pressure kept him alive and breathing.
“Hey boy,” the man uttered in a weak voice, followed by unintelligible human sounds Robby couldn’t understand.
He recognized the voice, and immediately spurted over to the slowly dying man. In shock, I realized that the broken man was myself, on the brink of death.
“Robby, how did you find me?” I asked as I lifted my hand onto his head.
He bit onto my sleeve and tried to pull me out from under the debris, not realizing that in only minutes, I’d be dead. He whimpered as he heard me groan in pain, and despite his lack of understanding of death, he could tell I was suffering.
Without any other options, he simply sat by my side as the city before us kept burning, keeping me company during my final hour.
I kept petting him until I drew my final breath, but he remained by my side even as I’d turned to little more than a limp pile of flesh, rid of any mind or soul.
Then he awoke in a panic, one that immediately softened as he found himself lying in my lap, back to safety, realizing it had all been just a dream…
…a dream of a future yet to happen. Whenever, and however, dogs only live so long.
They know our future, but don’t realize it. They just remain in our lives, the most loyal creatures in existence. Even as the world around them collapses, they try their absolute best to keep us safe, because they love us.
I hope this future can be avoided, but if not, I know that when my time comes, at least I won’t be alone.
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