Dead Channel

📅 Published on February 27, 2021

“Dead Channel”

Written by Nick Carlson
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

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ESTIMATED READING TIME — 23 minutes

Rating: 8.67/10. From 3 votes.
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27For the past three weeks it was the same dream every night.

Strangely enough, the whole scene is in black-and-white, with a grainy finish, like an old film. And I mean an old film, like, pre-1900s. Everything is faded, and seems to swim within itself. There’s even music: scratchy, dramatic chords that play a brief overture…before everything falls to complete silence.

I’m in a small, barren concrete room. There’s an ornate chair standing in front of me. Behind it is a simple wooden door. That door roots me in place with fear. Something is waiting on the other side, taking its sweet time, tormenting me with the possibility of coming through. I don’t want that door to open. I want whatever it is to stay put.

And for the past three weeks the door has remained inert. “Morbid curiosity” be damned; I could have gone the rest of my life without seeing that door open.

Some of you might be asking yourselves what it meant. I’ll let you in on it. I know exactly what it meant from the beginning.

Nothing.

Dreams don’t mean shit. They don’t predict the future, they’re not sending prophetic messages to be unlocked, and they’re most certainly not your body’s psychosomatic methods of unearthing hidden truths about yourself. At night your mind becomes a workshop, and your memories become raw material to craft. Anything and anyone you might have seen throughout your day has a possibility to be twisted, molded, or corrupted by the intangible workings of your mind. The results can be pleasurable, absurd, horrifying; sometimes, a combination of all three. That in my view should be our big takeaway from dreams, the brutal indifference of random chance. I must have seen that chair somewhere and it butted into my sleeping subconscious.

But why that chair specifically? It looked like something my grandmother would have owned. Or something from an antiques store. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen an antiques store.

Strange.

* * * * * *

I recanted these dreams to my best friend and coworker, Blake, one day. Blake and I were two peas in a pod. Nothing romantic ever came up for us…I never asked, but I suspect he swings for the same team. Yet we told each other everything, knew more about each other than ourselves…one might even say we were connected.

We were entry-level technicians at a television station, one which produces a large variety of different events, so the main studio constantly has to be redressed. Wires need to be run to different outlets, set pieces rearranged, light fixtures repositioned and recalibrated. It’s busywork, but constant and kinetic, the right amount to keep us preoccupied while still finding the time to talk.

We both have grand creative aspirations, so our current lowly positions were not so arbitrary of choices. No harm in getting a behind-the-scenes look at the industry before landing our seven-figure screenwriting deals straight out of college. Of course that’s bullshit, but there was truly no better time or place for bouncing ideas off each other, our dreams included.

“So,” Blake said as we were sitting down for lunch, “there’s a door and a chair, and everything’s in black white.”

“Correct,” I confirmed, “and I don’t want the door to open because it makes me so fearful for some reason.”

Blake gave a slight smirk and tipped his head in back, miming deep thought. “I see an alternative film in your future. Le Chair a la Door, a ninety-minute dive into the human psyche.”

I shrugged sheepishly. “Yeah, well, I guess it’s not exactly the most visually stimulating of dreams.”

He looked back at me, some of the humor in his face gone. “And you don’t want to open the door because you’re afraid of the thing on the other side.”

I nodded. “Tiny detail though: it’s not that I don’t want to open the door. It’s that I don’t want the door to open. I have no control in this dream. I just know the door will open when it wants to.”

“Maybe you should try and let it open,” said Blake.

I nearly cricked my neck whipping around to him. “And why would I do that?”

“Are you afraid of the door opening? Or is your dream self afraid of the door opening?” he suggested. “Dream-Katherine might say or do things that real-Katherine wouldn’t normally do. Maybe this is just one of those things you should let play out, despite what your dream-self feels. I mean, after all, what matters is what real-you does, as opposed to what happens in there.”

I considered his proposal. “Lucid dreaming” was out of the question; I couldn’t force my dream-self to not feel fear about what was behind the door. But I supposed going to sleep with that expectation might influence the way the nightmare would progress…

That night, before I settled in to bed, I took great care to let my bedroom door swing wide open. I let the metallic coldness on the doorknob become one with my palm, seeping in and replacing its warmth. As I reclined, my mind became alive with images of doors loose on their hinges, opening up to shapes and colors and possibilities in the void beyond.

* * * * * *

The overture played. The chair sat still. And the door remained closed. The mounting fear returned. Something, however, urged me to keep looking, just in case it opened. Maybe I wouldn’t be afraid if I just saw what the door was hiding…

Then it creaked open.

And everything just shattered: an earsplitting, ungodly hiss erupted from the crack and jolted me awake. The force of my beating heart nearly propelled me from my bed, and as I swayed in place, dizzy from sudden wakefulness, I heard it again…this time, soft and almost soothing.

It was the damn TV again. Some fuse inside it had dislodged or fried from years of use, and now it turns on at random intervals, always to some defunct channel blaring static. Blinking the sleep from my eyes, I staggered into the living room and fumbled for the switch. Even after the room was dark once more, the image of the staticky screen permeated behind my eyelids. My head ached too much to stay awake, so I simply shambled back to bed and fell back asleep.

The door did not return for the rest of the night.

* * * * * *

The server room at the station is an eerie place. There are no overhead lights; the only source of illumination is the blue glow of the stacks upon stacks of machinery that pack the space like bookshelves. TV monitors line the walls playing whatever is programmed to air depending on the time of day. In the mornings they air children’s cartoons. Afternoon and evening, public interest pieces. For a while, I wasn’t sure what we aired at night.

I was staying late one evening at the station monitoring the archiving of some court cases for some .gov site. One of the many eccentricities about public TV stations is their reliance on grant money, where they are paid to run very specific and interest-driven tasks, such as, well, archiving court cases for some .gov site.

That night it was going to take a while. The program predicted it would take over ninety minutes to offload everything. So when fiddling on my phone became too taxing on my eyes, I exited the suite and took to walking down the empty halls.

The fluorescent lights above were flickering. I could make out the blurry brown bodies of dead bugs behind the glass. The only sounds were the buzzing and humming of mechanical ambience. Everyone else, even my supervisor, had gone home for the evening to enjoy themselves. Not me. There were still at least twenty minutes of archiving left to do.

My walk inadvertently took me towards the server room. Even from a distance it was deafening in the corridor, from the sounds of steam, modems, and grinding gears.

I hesitated. There was no reason to push forward. I could have just turned back to my lonely cubicle and my archiving.

“Dream-Katherine might say or do things that real-Katherine wouldn’t normally do,” Blake’s voice urged. I grimaced. Dream-me would have willed with all my heart not to open the door. But what mattered is what I did in the real world.

I reached out and opened the door with a jarring clunk.

The machinations were like dozing breath as I wandered through the shadowy racks of servers. The blue light was sprinkled with flickering dots of citrus orange and lime. My skin seemed to glow cerulean in the darkness. I off-handedly thought this would be the perfect place for a killer to hide out and stalk, like a tiger in tall grass. Now there’s a story idea, I told myself.

I turned a corner to the center of the room, alit by four television screens mounted on the ceiling. For a moment I was transfixed. Each screen was playing a black-and-white film of a woman garbed like a May Queen, flitting around a cabbage patch and plucking up human infants from the ground. I had a sudden flashback to my Intro to Film classes: this was The Cabbage Fairy, one of the first “movies” ever made, depicting an ancient European folk tale about babies born from vegetable gardens.

It wasn’t the movie itself that unnerved me, however. It wasn’t even the unexpectedness of our station airing these incredibly old films at night, probably on account of another obscure grant. It was that the visual style matched exactly that found in my nightmares. And this was the first time in years I had even seen a film with that antiquated look. I was confounded. How and why would such a specific detail from my workplace seem to…I don’t know…follow me back home, and infect my dreams?

The film ended. A new one began, one depicting a factory letting out its workers for the day. With it came a soundtrack of deep, unsettling human breathing. I paused. Even from what I remembered in class all those years ago, I knew this film wasn’t a talkie…sound in cinema didn’t arrive until decades later…

The breathing was in the room with me. On the other side of a wall of servers.

I nearly gasped from the realization, instantly clapping my hands to my mouth. The breathing remained constant, in place. It hadn’t heard me. It barely sounded human. It was perverse, animalistic…like it was exhausted…or in agony…

I wanted to get out. But I had come so far already, having tapped into something I wasn’t supposed to see…Blake’s voice nagged at me again. It was the only thing keeping me from fleeing. Maybe I had to see it…maybe I had to defy my fear…

My phone alarm went off – I jumped and bolted from the room. The weak light in the hallway was blinding after the server room. I stopped at the far end and threw my head back to the doorway, watching and listening for the thing to follow me out…

After a solid minute I realized the phone alarm was still blaring…I fumbled for it and switched it off. I was still alone in the hallway. It hadn’t heard me in the slightest. Or perhaps I was imagining things, the server room’s shadowy aesthetics suggesting things in my mind that weren’t there…

Regardless I remembered why I had set my phone alarm in the first place, and I jogged back to my space, confirmed everything had transferred properly, closed out and shut down. They didn’t pay me enough to stick around and find out what was in the server room…if there was anything at all.

Driving home in the dark, the world outside my headlights practically nonexistent, I could only nervously dwell on the notion that whatever lurked in the server room was connected to my spate of mysterious nightmares. The thought followed me up the stairs to my apartment and constricted me as I laid down for the night. How I could even enact sleep, with the server room entity and the cycle of dreams on my mind, should have been a lost cause. But fate apparently had other plans for me.

* * * * * *

The door opened.

I might have expected the ominous creak of squeaky hinges, but my dreams were a silent film, so it swung forth soundlessly amid a deafening, scratchy fuzz.

A man stepped out from behind the door. I was confused at first. This man was tall with trimmed, curly hair, a well-tailored suit, and a chiseled face. There was nothing remotely frightening about him. In any other scenario, actually, I might have found him attractive, in an old-fashioned, Golden Age sort of way.

Then he saw me, and everything became dread.

His movements were stiff and jerky, locked at the joints like a mummy. His expression was tight-lipped, wide-eyed, his brow lowering in a ghastly scowl. He staggered from the doorway, meandering towards me, arms extended and fingers curled into twisted claws. I still couldn’t move. The sonic haze of old film boomed in my ears as he lurched forward, those hungry hands flexing with the urge to grab me, to have their way with me…

I wanted to lash out. My arms were unwilling. I nearly torqued my sockets from the strain of movement. He was right there in front of me, the veins in his eyes fine cracks of gray…

I woke up screaming, thrashing in bed like a beached fish, tangled in the bedsheets. My screams were drowned out by the static on my television, which had switched on by itself in the night. I rounded the doorway and practically punched the power button in my panic. I blinked, the image of the screen again burned into my eyelids. But as it faded away, I saw something else within the static.

With each blink there was a pair of eyes in the screen…huge, penetrating, and angry. The eyes of the man in my nightmare.

I tried telling myself it was a coincidence. I cursed my traitor brain for deliberately trying to sabotage my well-being with such imagery. But more and more, against my will, I realized that the connection between the depths of the server room and the depths of my mind had only intensified after tonight. I had opened my mind to whatever it was…and it was letting itself in.

* * * * * *

I got no more sleep after that. I reclined like a mummified corpse on my cheap sofa, watching a weak pane of light drift across the room with the rising sun. My heavy-lidded gaze flitted back to the television, almost daring it to blare to life again, to show its unseen eyes once more. Nothing obliged my ill-founded hopes, however.

I went into work that day feeling likes anvils were hanging under my eyes. Every closed door in the hallways sent a forceful chill through my flesh, as though the man’s glare were invisible laser beams from behind them. I had lonesome editing work to do, so my misery went unbroadcasted by the rest of the staff. With the exception of one.

“God, wiring is such a bore,” Blake said as he slipped into my suite. “What are you up to? …Whoa…holy moly, you look like death. You alright?”

I turned to him, eager for a reason to tear my gaze from the screens. “I let the door open last night. A man came through and he tried to attack me.”

Blake’s expression lowered with worry. “Did you recognize him at all?”

“No,” I asserted, shaking my head. “No one I know looks like him. It could have just been someone I passed by on the street for all I know…”

Blake opened his mouth to speak, but I cut him off, the words spilling out like vomit. “There’s another thing too…I was here late last night, and I went into the server room, and the televisions were playing a bunch of super-old films. The same, like, visual style as my dreams. And there was someone or something else in there too…I could hear it breathing, Blake…”

He fidgeted in the doorway, as if anxious for an excuse to leave. “Are you saying you think there’s a connection between what happened in the server room…and your nightmares?”

“There has to be,” I said. “I don’t know why else I’d keep having these recurring dreams. Something’s…invading me.” I cringed at how violative that sounded. “And…”

“…And what?” Blake prompted.

I flashed back to the face in the static. The thought of the entity potentially coming through in my own home filled me with terror. But he didn’t need to know about that, not now. “Can you stay over late with me? I want to see if whatever that was in the server room comes back tonight.”

He hesitated, running his hand along the doorframe nervously. After a heavy moment he finally nodded. “Sure, okay…whatever you think will put this to rest.”

I stood and embraced him. He hugged me back, trying to say something, but his voice was muffled. “What was that?” I inquired.

He looked at me, and thought I saw tears in his eyes. “Thank you, Katherine…this is a hard time of year for me and I needed that. Thank you.”

“Oh, you’re okay,” I said, patting his shoulder. “Thank you, for helping me tonight. We’ll both have our things put to rest.”

He nodded again, straightening up a little. “For sure.”

* * * * * *

The rest of the day passed without incident. We clocked out as to not incur overtime, hung out in the edit suite and waited for everyone else to clear. When nine o’clock rolled around we meandered down the hallway, approaching the server room, which had been left ajar.

Blake was right behind me as we entered, which did well to temper my pulse. I wouldn’t describe him as particularly big or strong, but his mere presence was assuring in helping me navigate the server-laden walls, like a flashlight in the dark instead of a lit match. The room itself even felt smaller as we rounded the corner into the center, where the television screens playing old films cast a washed-out sepia glow.

“It was behind there,” I said, pointing behind a row of servers. With newfound confidence I strode to the wall and peeked around the corner, Blake lingering hesitantly behind me.

No one was behind the wall. It looked perfectly ordinary, in fact. No gaping hole in the floor, no secret door, no sign that anyone at all had been lurking back there.

Then my vision adjusted to the low light and I saw a pile of coiled-up objects on the floor. I pulled out my phone light and pointed. It was a tangled mess of wires that snaked up and into the servers. I strode over and grabbed them, tugging. They held fast; I could tell they were well-connected deep within the expanse of machinery.

“What do you see?” Blake called out.

I turned and showed him. He appeared perturbed, as if let down by an anticlimax. “Where do these go?” I wondered out loud.

He shook his head. “No idea. I’ve never been back here to run wires. If I had to guess though it looks like they’d connect to something external.”

“Or someone,” I muttered to myself.

A tense silence followed. The insect-like hiss of the servers seemed to amplify, threatening to overcrowd my own troubled thoughts.

Blake shrugged. “You sure you weren’t imagining things?”

“…I don’t know,” I admitted, turning back to him. “These nightmares have been getting to me so much the last few days…I have no idea what’s real and what’s just…projections.”

He shook his head. “I understand. …Really.”

I walked away from the wires and past him, rubbing the side of my head. “This is ridiculous…I’m sorry, I don’t know why I dragged you back here. This is my fucking problem, I’m gonna have to deal with it. I’m sorry, Blake.”

Blake merely looked at me, his expression one of confusion and hurt. “I’m sorry too,” he said. “I wish there was, like, anything at all I could say or do for you…”

“Don’t worry about it,” I insisted. “I’m going home…goodnight, Blake. I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“Yeah,” he said softly. I never looked back as I trudged my way through the server room. I had come so far only to have fallen down a deep, dark hole. Something was missing…a last, crucial piece of the puzzle that would have made all the difference. I knew discovering the entity in the server room would have closed the cycle once and for all…but of all the facets of this mystery, that one seemed the most dubious.

Server room…dreams…television…server room…dreams…television…

Linear progression. Broadcasting signals. I was being used. I was a channel…a pathway for a message…all starting with the entity. Was it the man from my dreams? Some diabolical machine that plugged into those wires? Driving home in the dark did nothing to ease me. And I knew I would find no respite when I laid down to sleep once more. The broadcast would come back with a vengeance. I figured surrendering my brain to sleep wouldn’t be the wisest course of action. But somehow I also understood that the only way out of this hole, was to dig deeper. Sleep came easier than expected.

* * * * * *

Black-and-white film. The chair. The door, which swung open soundlessly. The stumbling stiff of a man creeping through the opening. That stern, hungry expression. Those groping fingers. Cold, perverted touches, all up and down my body. I let it play out…the insidious sensations…the discomforting pressures in my entrails…I didn’t want it, he was touching me, he was raping me, oh God oh God GET ME OUT GET ME OUT I DON’T WANT IT –

I snapped awake and bolted from bed, screaming, swiping at my nonexistent assailant. I was soaked to the bone with sweat, my skin blared with fresh bruises and scrapes, dark streaks and blotches that stood out even in the low light. “What the fuck are you!” I cried at the dark, empty room.

The only thing that answered was the static from my television again. “Son of a bitch,” I growled, storming out of my bedroom and around the corner, ready to destroy the godforsaken device with my bare hands.

I almost screamed again. Like a deep-sea creature from a submersible’s window, a shadowy face and pair of hands was pressed against the inside of the screen, swimming in the buffeting static.

I was transfixed, my being one of pure confusion, as if I had been yanked from one reality to another. I knew it was the man from the nightmares, the one who had assaulted me…he was smiling behind the glass, gloating, eager for another go…

The static spilled from the screen like a digital rockslide. My entire room desaturated, becoming a black-and-white film. Everything melted, became one solid mass. The man stepped out from the screen and loped towards me. I couldn’t resist. He let himself in.

* * * * * *

Spirits are high. They’re all distracted, ensnared in the giddy grasp of emotions and drink. There’s Susan, barely staying on her own two feet, laughing her head off, her rum-and-coke threatening to spill. There’s Frank, practically a zombie splayed out on the couch. There’s Michael, Timothy, Terrence, and Jack, engrossed with the big game on TV. Too drunk, too stupid to take note of their surroundings. Ah, who am I to judge…I’m one too many champagnes in and already I’m someone else. My own gait is wobbly and I can’t feel my fingertips, but now there’s a dark clarity in my mind that I have come to fear over the years…and savor.

They’re distracted. And he’s downstairs. Ready to go.

All I see are the backs of their heads as I slip away from the living room, into the kitchen, and down the basement stairs. Not a single pair of eyes to catch sight of me and put two and two together.

My drunkenness makes even the well-lit basement stairs seem dark. I have to be careful in my descent. I don’t want to ruin the surprise with a twisted ankle.

I reach the bottom, stalking through the concrete room. I see the door on the far end. It’s still closed…no sign that the had kid tried going anywhere. I suck in a breath, my legs tightening in anticipation. I walk over.

I slowly swing the door open. The room it leads to is almost as plain as the basement, but its contents are all the more sweet. He’s sitting in that fancy, ornate chair, like a little prince. He looks good in that suit his mother bought for him. His arm dangles off the side, red Solo cup in his grasp. It’s empty. Perfect…he’d done what I had told him to.

“Uncle Sherman, what’s going on?” he says drowsily.

“Shh,” I whisper, approaching him. “Let’s you and me play a game, young man.”

The kid’s eyes brighten, albeit briefly. The drink has done more than enough of a number on him. “What game?”

I grin, a sickening fire stoking my heart as I loom over him. “Patient Blake, the doctor will see you now.”

* * * * * *

Like a light switch going off, reality came back to me in an instant.

My television was still on, still displaying its noisy static. I was staring down at it, as the man had stared at his nephew. The trickling remnants of his sinful arousal still persisted inside me before siphoning away. My eyes stung, and I dabbed at my cheeks to discover they were shiny and slick with running tears.

“Blake…”

He was the entity. It was his dreams I was experiencing. His memories, contaminated by the old films through some means I did not know. And I had just left him there, in the server room, with those wires…

I checked the clock. It was barely past midnight. There was still time. Pulling warmer clothes on, I grabbed my keys and bolted out the door.

The drive to the station seemed nonexistent. Instinct fueled by sheer horror had overtaken me until I parked my car in the lot. A police car sat idle a hundred feet away; I could see the officer’s face illuminated from within, staring at me. I looked at him no further as I walked to the front door, made a show of using my keyfob to get access, and then bolted for the server room once I was out of sight.

As I weaved through the shadowy stacks I felt a peculiar buzzing inside me, the strange sandy tingle of when your foot falls asleep, but all over. Like static. Static inside me. I pushed past it, taking heavy strides, forcing feeling back into my muscles. I couldn’t afford to stop now.

I burst into the center room, where the four screens were playing an old film of a train pulling into a station. I rounded the corner and only then did I stop, aghast at the scene before me.

Blake was shirtless and prostrating on the floor. The wires leading into the servers had been jabbed under his skin, coiling from his spine and the back of his head. He was gyrating back and forth, as if jolting from electricity in slow motion. A mishmash of broken speech spilled from his mouth…high, shaky, and innocent. The voice of a child.

“Blake!” I cried, rushing over and kneeling down, shaking his shoulder. He was glistening with sweat and reeked of body odor and bad breath. He jerked away from my touch, emitting a yelp. “Blake! Wake up!” I screamed into his ear. He shook his head, shuffling away from me. “Goddammit Blake!” I roared with frustration, grabbing a hold of a wire.

In response he reared up, nearly striking my face with his head, his arms spread out as if crucified, and shrieked. I shuffled away, breathless at the spectacle. I suddenly smelled urine; I could see a dark stain spreading from the front of his pants. His cry descended to a raspy rattle and he fell forward again. Sobbing, I rushed forward again and yanked a wire out from his flesh. He tried resisting but I held him down, forcing myself to pull out wires despite my tears. Each one gave a nauseating pop and was followed by a bead of blood that ran down his back like red rain on a window.

The static in my body reached a grinding, shredding point, but with a cry I finally yanked the last wire from the crown of his skull. The pile of discarded wires spat sparks, emitting an odor of burnt plastic. Blake curled up on the ground, his back smeared crimson, weeping in a puddle of his own fluids.

I sat next to him, devolved to a running faucet again. He gave a pathetic gasp, wiping mucus from under his nose, and forced himself up to face me. “Why, Blake?” I whispered, my voice trembling. “Why would you do this to yourself?!”

His lip quivered and he looked away from me. “Go away. You don’t understand…”

“I do understand!” I interrupted. “You have horrible memories you want to suppress…but whatever you’re doing to yourself is insane!”

“It’s helping me forget!” he shouted. He grabbed a fistful of smoldering wires. “This here, this right here…it channels the memories somehow, sucks them away like juice from a battery! I’d almost forgotten…but they’re still there! Everything he said, everything he did…I can still hear and feel it! Let me finish! Please!”

“No!” I yanked the wires from his grasp and pushed him to the wall, forcing him to look at me. “You’re getting rid of them but they’re not going away! They’re going airborne! They’re a goddamn broadcast signal that’s coming through my TV and poisoning my dreams when I sleep!”

He sniffled and looked up at me. “What?”

“Every time you do this,” I explained, on the verge of breaking down again, “he manifests more and more…he grows in my nightmares and uses the TV as a portal! He tried getting out! I saw it, Blake! I saw everything!”

I reached out and embraced him again, overwhelmed by the stench of despair. “I’m so sorry that happened to you, I really am…I’m so sorry for you…but what you’re doing to yourself is torture! You’re putting yourself through Hell so you could forget and now I’m suffering for it! Stop this…please. I’m begging you…”

I pulled away from him. Blake’s head hung limp on his shoulders. He looked skeletal, like a starved and beaten prisoner of war. He finally looked up, his gaze focused behind my shoulder. “I understand, Katherine.” He gave a shuddering gasp. “What I don’t understand…is why you brought him with you!”

“What?” I turned, expecting to see the police officer from the parking lot. But the man standing behind me was in fuzzy black-and-white, donning a nice suit he might have worn to a dinner party. He shimmered, as if he were a television screen displaying static. Those hard, lustful eyes were all too familiar to me.

The static inside me returned. “No,” I said weakly.

Blake fidgeted. “Uncle Sherman,” he whined. “What’s going on?”

The man stepped forward and opened his mouth. His voice was corrupted with a blaring crackle, yet I could understand him, having heard it all not thirty minutes earlier. “Shh. Let’s you and me play a game, young man.”

Blake’s head lolled again, as if intoxicated. “What game?”

“No! Stop!” I shouted, standing and striking at him. But my arm went right through him, and he continued moving forward, passing through me seamlessly, as if I weren’t there.

“Patient Blake, the doctor will see you now,” he simpered.

“Stop! Don’t!” I wheeled around and tried grabbing the apparition, but my grasp closed around nothing. The thing reached out towards a catatonic Blake, his fingers flexing hungrily…

I backed away, panicked and infuriated beyond control…he had latched onto me and came forth to reenact the memory…and whatever happened, it might destroy Blake in his state…

Let it play out, I thought. But I resisted that old maxim…letting something like this “play out” could be downright catastrophic. This was a dream made real…his dream…

No…my dream…

I had brought the man into reality. It was my dream, my fault he had come forth in the first place…

The wires were still spitting.

The thing was hunched over Blake’s form. That image emblazoned in my mind, I crawled towards the wires and took one in my hand. It stuck to my palm, slowly burning my flesh. I had to be quick.

A metal bit stuck out the frayed end. It was crusty with Blake’s coagulated blood. My hands were shaking as I raised them behind my head. My heart was screaming in protest. My body resisted my brain’s crazed intent. Mind vs. matter. For a long, scary moment, I hesitated.

Then Blake gave a mournful wail, and I jammed the point right below my crown.

My skull exploded with electricity and darkness filled my vision like a spilled glass of ink. The floor was cold as I collapsed onto it. Then, everything became warm.

* * * * * *

“Come on, Blakey boy,” I urge, “let’s see ‘em. Your physical is nearly complete.”

My nephew shakes his head. He hasn’t fought back against me at all during our game, but perhaps a hint of sobriety is coming back to him. Or maybe the thought of exposing himself in that way is just too much, no matter what frame of mind. Regardless, I can feel myself sobering up too. My good conscious – that pestilent worm – would come back. “Blake, you have to follow the rules. Come on, young man.”

He shakes his head again. I grow impatient. “This is how you play the game! You’ve been playing well all this time…don’t quit on me now. Don’t be a sore loser, Blake.”

Blake looks at me with guilt and hurt. My neck twitches. “Enough of this.” I reach for the boy’s pants. He doesn’t try to fight back. “Good…let’s be a team player, Blake…be good for the doctor…maybe I’ll give you a lollipop to suck on when we’re done…”

I know what’s going to happen…I can almost envision it, as if it’s been predetermined…that black itch in my soul will finally be scratched…I give a sigh of relief…

Something’s wrong. There’s someone else in the room.

To my right…there’s a girl, mid-20s, slumped on the ground as if knocked out, dressed in crappy, overlarge winter clothes…she doesn’t belong here…not even in this time period…

I look back at Blake and suddenly he’s in his 20s too, a scrawny young man in the chair, shirtless before me…

“What?” I spit. “What is this!”

A sudden ballooning in my chest…my arms seem to fail, falling limply to my sides…it’s the girl, the witch, the interloper, she’s the one doing this…but I throw my gaze over to her and find to my shock she’s blurry and faded, as if seen through a misted window…

“Go to Hell,” a voice in my head curses. Her voice…

I try to curse back at her, but there’s a horrible sucking sensation in my guts…robbing my voice, my will…

My fingers curl and then straighten again…my muscles force me to walk backwards…I’m a tape in reverse…

“You were his memory,” the girl’s voice mocks. “Now you’re my dream. Which means…now you’re mine.”

The drink completely gone from my system, I fight my damnedest against her hold. Yet some dark, backwards logic forces me to continue walking in reverse…back through the door, where my hand awkwardly swings it closed…

Blake is shut out. The entire room is shut out. But the basement is gone. Now, there’s just empty black space…not even a floor to stand on. Something’s keeping me tethered. She’s keeping me tethered…

“Now stay here,” she commands. “…And fall.”

Gravity turns on. I plummet down the memory hole, the door above shrinking into the black. My mouth opens wide, but there is no air to scream with.

There is only descent…descent into forever.

* * * * * *

I was slow to awaken. Everything was clean and soft, with the exception of the back of my head, which felt crusty and charred like burnt wood. I breathed in and smelled not burnt wood but linens and hospital chemicals. I sighed, recalling the horrific circumstances that had led to this moment. I wondered how much time had passed…and how taxing my little leap from reality had been on myself.

“Hey, you,” a familiar voice said. Blake stood up from a chair propped against the wall. He looked peaky and disheveled, as if he hadn’t slept in days. “How are you doing?”

“Forget me,” I said, immediately coughing from a dry throat. Blake handed me a paper cup of water, which I sipped from. “I should be asking you that.”

He sighed, fidgeting nervously. “I…still remember. But I actually slept for a while today…and he never showed up. In my dreams, or otherwise.”

“This time of year is hard for you,” I recalled.

Blake nodded. “Nineteen years ago, on this date actually…it’s stuck with me since, and as the years went on, it…it became unbearable. No amount of therapy or medication ever worked…and this year as the…anniversary drew near, I got desperate. I’m still not sure what I did, or how it resulted in all this…regardless, I’m not doing it again. It happened to me…no more chance of denying it.”

He reached out and squeezed my hand. I returned the gesture. “But I know he won’t come back now,” he said, his voice a bit stronger. “Whatever you did…banishing him or whatever…it helped. It really helped. Thank you so much…”

“And all because I let that door open in the first place,” I said.

“I never knew this would happen,” he protested, getting agitated again.

“I know, I know,” I replied, shifting in my bed. Sharp pains shot up my forearms, courtesy of the probing IV tubes. “But…who knows what might have happened if I hadn’t let the door open further…if I hadn’t opened my mind to it…”

“…then it wouldn’t have come to this,” said Blake, looking away guiltily.

“Or,” I offered, “you and I would have been trapped in our own fruitless cycles for however long it would have taken. No closure for either of us.”

“But you could have died, they told me,” Blake said. “And your hair’s gone too. All burned off.”

I frowned, shifting my head, feeling nothing but cloth bandages around my scalp. “Oh. …Blake…listen to me. That doesn’t matter. He’s not going to torment us any longer. All because we opened up. The both of us.”

His lip quivered, and for an instant I saw that same scared little kid again, trembling at the thought of some higher power taking advantage of him. Then his face melted into one of understanding. “The cat’s out of the bag now, huh.”

“Yeah,” I lamented, truly uncomfortable for the first time since coming around. “The fact that that sort of…technology, I guess, exists…imagine if what you did got out…if others found out, and used it…”

“The wires are gone,” Blake assured me. “No one knows except you and me. I promise. But at least now you have a basis for a new screenplay. ‘The Dream Warrior.’”

Despite my aching ribs I forced out a laugh. “Yeah, sure, I’ll have to get to that, right after Le Chair a la Door.”

He smiled at me. “You do you, I guess.” He patted my hand once more, then bade me goodbye and left the room.

I sighed, settling in, feeling drowsy once more. The TV hanging above my bed was blank and inert. I wondered if letting the door had been the right thing after all…so much had been let out, exposed to the open…the immediate threat was gone, but the implications of what we’d done still lingered, like a bad smell.

“Dreams don’t mean shit,” I mumbled to myself. “Reality is more than enough.”

I drifted off, my mind for once mercifully empty.

Rating: 8.67/10. From 3 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Written by Nick Carlson
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Nick Carlson


Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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