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The Hallucinations of Cy Abrendo

The Hallucinations of Cy Abrendo

Estimated reading time — 12 minutes

“How do you know that what you experience is real?” Was the question I posed to my class that blustery Thursday morning in January.

I teach psychology at the University of Maryland, in College Park, Maryland, and that day we were beginning our unit on perception and cognition, one of my favorite units. I have been a college professor for 18 years now, and I absolutely love what I do. I enjoy engaging with, and having productive discussions with, inquisitive young minds about all matter of subjects.

“For example, when you’re sitting in your dorm room, or at your apartment, and you hear a car drive by outside, or hear people walking down the hallway and talking, how do you know those things actually happened, if you didn’t see them?” I continued.


That question alone spurred on a discussion that took up the bulk of the hour and 40 minutes that I had the class for. All sorts of interesting viewpoints were shared, but the one thing the class appeared to be in agreement on was that when you hear something familiar, even if you can’t see it, you just tend to trust your senses, and leave it at that. Simply put, you just don’t tend to think too much about it if it doesn’t concern you.

As the class wound down, I ended the lecture by giving out one of my favorite homework assignments of the semester. I gave the class until the following Tuesday to complete the task of just sitting in their dorm room, or apartment, and for half an hour, to just write down all the things they could hear, but not see. It was a simple assignment, yes, but it often yielded some interesting results, and this semester would prove to be no different.

Five days later, at the beginning of class, I collected the papers from the majority of the 250 students in the lecture hall, with plans of going over them over the ensuing weekend and getting them back to the students the following Tuesday. So, that following Saturday evening I sat down at my kitchen table and began looking through them. There was your standard fare of entries about cars outside, planes flying overhead, as well as overheard, sometimes pretty humorous, conversations, and given that I gave the class the weekend to complete the assignment I also got entries that detailed the typical sounds of a weekend around a major college campus. This usually entailed the sounds of partying, particularly loud music, rowdy drunk people, and the occasional fight, that sort of thing. All was going as expected until I came across one paper in particular that gave me pause. It had only one word written on it: wailing. That was strange, I thought, and it certainly raised some alarm. I looked to the top of the page to find out which of my students had done this assignment, and read the name, “Cy Abrendo.” Given that the semester had only recently started, and that I had a fairly large class, I was admittedly not too familiar with my students, but suffice it to say, I had some questions for whoever it was that turned in that paper.

The following Tuesday rolled around, and I began the class by giving everyone their assignments back. I gave pretty much everyone a 4.0 just for adequately completing the assignment. I usually handed back assignments in alphabetical order, so, I figured it wouldn’t be too long before I got to see who this student was that turned in this cryptically answered prompt. So, after I called for Melissa Abbott to come down and get her paper, I called out his name.

“Cy Abrendo,” I called aloud.

I watched as he slowly got up from his seat in the back of the classroom and made his way down towards the front, where I was stationed. He had a noticeably quiet demeanor. He was a little bit taller than average, with an average build, pallid complexion, greasy, shoulder-length dark hair, and wearing a red hoodie overtop what looked to be a band shirt. As I handed him back his paper, under my breath I asked him if he could stay after class for a bit to talk. He swiftly nodded his head and went back to his seat.


Class that day then went off without a hitch. We discussed Carl Jung and his views on cognitive functions, and as always, many unique thoughts and perspectives were shared. Then, just like that, an hour and 40 minutes had passed, and I dismissed the class. Cy sauntered up towards my desk at the front of the room and I asked him about his assignment. I asked if everything was okay. As well as asking what he thought the cause of the wailing was. He just shrugged and said he didn’t know. I followed that up by asking him where he lived. He responded by saying that he lived at Ellicott Hall. I then asked if someone was in distress, or if they could have possibly been hurt. He said he didn’t think so and that he actually had been hearing the same wailing sound for a while now, at least since early last semester. I asked if he had called campus security, to which he claimed that he had, and that they did an investigation into the sound, but couldn’t find anyone who would admit to having been the one making the noise. Moreover, they couldn’t seem to find anybody else on his floor that even heard the sound in question. Thinking that it may have only been audible to a small portion of his dorm, I inquired if he had a roommate, and if his roommate had heard the wailing also. He said that he had a roommate named Tristan, but that he didn’t seem to hear the sound, either. I then asked him how often he heard the sound. He said that it happened every so often, and at any, and all hours of the day, seemingly without any rhyme or reason. I was having a tough time piecing this one together. I figured that maybe someone was in some form of emotional distress, but possibly just didn’t want to admit to it. I was preparing to dismiss him when he volunteered one more bit of information. He said that the first time he heard the sound it sounded rather distant, but as time went on it got louder, as if whatever was making the sound was getting closer. That certainly was very interesting. On that, I dismissed him, and without another word he walked out of the lecture hall.

Over the next so many weeks Cy’s experiences with the mysterious wailing sound would occasionally cross my mind, but overall, I largely forgot about it as the semester went on.

That was until one day when he showed up to my office hours. I was just about to pack up my stuff and head home for the evening when he appeared at my door and asked if we could talk. I welcomed him warmly and beckoned him to come in and sit down. He then detailed several updates pertaining to the wailing sound. He said that he had been hearing the wailing sound more and more frequently, and that it was still getting louder with each subsequent time he would hear it. I then asked him to elucidate what the wailing sounded like. As in did it sound like it was coming from a male or a female, whether it was a high or low-pitched sound, stuff like that. He said that it was hard to say, but that the sound was always at about the same pitch, and would sometimes last only seconds, other times several hours. As I was sat at my desk trying to formulate a good follow-up question, he suddenly broke the silence, saying that he was starting to think it was all in his head. I must admit, I did think that was a distinct possibility, seeing as how nobody seemed to be hearing the sound except for him. I then went over some of the on-campus options that were available to students for counseling, and the like. He thanked me for the information before adding one more bit of information. He said that in addition to the wailing sound, he thought that he had begun to see something out of the corner of his eye as well. I asked him if he believed the two things to be related. He then stood up while gathering his things, and shrugged, saying that he wasn’t sure. He thanked me for my time then promptly left my office. I just sat at my desk in deep thought for a while thereafter before I eventually collected my things and headed home.

As I was driving home, there was something I couldn’t get out of my head. That was that during the entire time we were talking in my office, Cy didn’t seem overly bothered by the situation. He never seemed anything more than maybe mildly perturbed at worst. He actually kept a pretty casual manner most of the time.

Over the next couple of days, I talked to several of my colleagues who had a greater knowledge base of stuff like this and who had dealt with this kind of thing in a clinical setting, about this matter. One theme that kept coming up was that of hallucinations, and I must say, I got quite the crash course in the subject from my fellow professors. I even decided to co-author an essay with one of my colleagues on matters pertaining to the subject.

The semester progressed pretty normally from there and before I knew it, it was time for midterms; the time when I would be faced with grading exams and reading term papers. Even though the grading of all 250 of those exams and papers was strenuous, and at times about as much fun as a thrombosed hemorrhoid, I did enjoy reading what my students wrote. It appeared as though I had a really good Psych 225 class that semester, replete with intelligent young men and women that had a real knack for psychology and psychological research.

As far as things with Cy were concerned, he showed up to class regularly, and even held a very respectable 3.0 in my class. He even wrote one of the better, and more engaging, term papers that semester, on negative reinforcement. Although, I must admit I did sometimes worry about what he was experiencing. I imagine something like that had the potential to greatly interfere with one’s schoolwork.


After midterms week, however, it was spring break, and I wouldn’t see any of my students for at least a week, as they would all be either back home or on vacation. I can assure you however, that as much as students loved spring break, us professors enjoyed it very much, as well. It was a nice short mid-semester break that gave us all ample time to recharge our batteries to get ready for the home stretch of the semester.

When class reconvened the following Tuesday after spring break, it was nice to see all my students again. Some didn’t seem as ready for classes to restart as others. Cy entered the classroom about five minutes before class was scheduled to start. He seemed to be in a cheerier mood than usual as he quickly made his way to his seat at the back of the room.
Class that day went well, as we were starting on our new unit about ego-syntonic and ego-dystonic behavior. For the most part, Cy seemed to be in a relatively relaxed state throughout the class, but part way through the lecture I glanced up at the back of the room and noticed that he seemed to be overtly distracted by something, with his eyes darting all around.

I called him over to my desk again after class had ended to ask him if he was feeling okay, and to let him know that I had noticed his lack of focus that day. He apologized, and said that he was feeling alright, but that he was indeed very distracted that day. I asked him what was wrong, and he said that as he was sitting in class, he heard the wailing sound again. That was odd, as I hadn’t heard anything, and it didn’t appear as though any of the other students had, either. While not really any of my business, I couldn’t help but ask if he was on any medication that may be causing these hallucinations as a side effect. He said that he wasn’t on any meds and that he overall didn’t have any health problems that would warrant medication. I then asked if he had done any illicit substances that could be causing this, like LSD, or something like that. At first, he seemed hesitant to answer, but then I reassured him that it was okay to tell me, and that I wasn’t going to report him if he had.

He then relaxed a bit and admitted to me that while he had sparingly experimented with those things before, he hadn’t done any such drugs in several years, and that when he did, he never had hallucinations like that. I really didn’t know what to make of this. It seemed like we were exhausting every single possibility we could, and in short order. I dismissed him and wished him a good day. He thanked me, wished me the same, and quickly left.

As the calendar flipped from March to April, and the semester began to wind down, I didn’t find myself thinking too much about what all was going on with Cy, as I was largely preoccupied with teaching two in-person classes and one online class, as well as working with my colleague on our essay about auditory hallucination. However, I would be lying if I said it didn’t occasionally pop into my head, forcing me to ruminate over just what exactly might be going on with my student.

My next encounter with him came on a Friday evening. I was walking across campus to get to my car after having gotten something to eat, on campus.

“Doctor Seldon,” I heard a voice call out from behind me.

I turned to see who it was, only to see Cy walking towards me at a hurried pace. He didn’t look as he normally did. He appeared to be rather disheveled. He was dressed in a gray pair of sweatpants and a gray, stained hoodie, with messy hair, and tired-looking, somewhat vacant eyes.


I greeted him and asked him what he needed. He started in by saying something that I certainly wasn’t expecting. He told me that he had seen it. When I asked what he meant, he said that he had seen the figure that he had been seeing out of the corner of his eye, this time close up, and that he believed it to be the source of the wailing sound he had been hearing. I asked him what had happened, and he told me that he was sitting in his dorm room, writing a paper for his American history class when he heard the wailing again. This time, however, it was the loudest he had ever heard it, and sounded like it was so close, that it almost seemed as though it could have been in the same room as him. Then, he said, the wailing abruptly stopped, and was immediately followed by the sound of a faint knocking at his door. He slowly got up from his chair, walked over to the door, and looked out through the peephole, that’s when he saw it. He described the entity as having a humanoid figure, with an overall emaciated appearance. I asked about any other notable features. To which he went on to describe that the creature, or whatever it was, was largely devoid of identifiable characteristics. He said that it had grayish skin, with splotches of white here and there, with one arm being noticeably longer than the other, no body hair to speak of, and a nearly blank face. I asked what he meant when he said that it had a “nearly blank face.” His answer to my query sounded downright horrific. He explained that the face only had half of a mouth near the middle of its head, up by where one’s nose would usually be, and a weeping gash on its forehead. I asked him to elaborate further, and he said that it looked as if it only had the right side of a mouth halfway up its face, and an oozing wound just a few inches above said mouth. I could hardly imagine such a thing. I asked him if he had any idea what it might have been, and in his somewhat flustered state he said that he had no idea, but that when he looked out the peephole again, just a few short seconds after the first time he had seen the entity, it was gone. He then opened his door to examine the area, but couldn’t find any evidence of anyone, or anything, having ever been there. He then went around the floor asking if anybody was going around in a costume and trying to scare people, or anything like that, but that no one had, or at least, no one was fessing up to it.

Feeling defeated, he went back to his room, and didn’t hear the wailing again that night. He later called campus police to report the incident but was not taken seriously. The campus police believed that he was trying to prank them, so they instead issued him a stern warning about misusing the campus PD phoneline and hung up on him. I asked him when this happened, to which he said it had all taken place just two days prior. I didn’t really know what else to say, so I asked him if he in any way felt threatened or endangered by this thing. He said he didn’t know how to feel, but that the creature certainly was menacing. Not long after that, the conversation came to an end, and we bid each other a good evening.

Little did I know that would be the last time I would ever see Cy. Tuesday morning rolled around, and he wasn’t in class. It was certainly out of character for him to miss class, but then Thursday came and went with no sign of him. Weeks would go by without so much as a word from him. Then, in early May, finals week came, and he wasn’t there for that, either.
I don’t know if he dropped my course, dropped out entirely, or what happened to him. All I can say is that I hope he’s doing well, wherever he is.

As the end of the semester was drawing near, and students were preparing to move out, and go home for the summer, I decided to go over to Ellicott Hall, and see if I could hear anything for myself. So, one evening, after I had finished grading finals for the day, I headed up that way and just stood outside for a while, since professors weren’t permitted inside the residence halls, trying to see if I could hear what it was that Cy had been hearing. Not gonna lie, I’m not sure how anybody could hear much of anything over the cacophony of techno music that I could clearly hear coming from the building while I was stood at least 50 feet away. After about a half an hour or so, and not having heard anything that sounded like wailing, I gave up and went home.

That was this past spring. It is now the middle of the summer, and with no classes to teach, I got to work on the essay that my colleague and I were collaborating on, when something strange happened. As I was sitting at my kitchen table, working on my laptop, I could have sworn that I heard the faint sound of wailing, off in the distance.

Credit: Steven Allen


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