I spent the next few weeks devising a second sequence of verbal devices that would potentially induce greater phobia in an episodic subject. I also had my neurologist colleague orchestrate new neural note patterns that would supplement this effect. Whereas the first portion of the Nightmare by Numbers program exhausts the mind and isolates the human fear response, the second portion would be used to intensify the terror associated with their paralytic state. This would hopefully lead to a spike in their anxiety, heart-rate, and allow me to further study the displacement of their shadows.
This time the 14-year-old girl went first. We suspended her in the traction device, promptly slipping into her episode without complication. I began the recital of my planned verbal devices while my assistants played the neural note track. She exhibited no response to the battery for two minutes, then she entered a heightened state of dread-fueled, manic cognitive distortion, similar in appearance to an involuntary schizophrenic outburst in relation to fear. I’ve since referred to this extreme disorientation psychosis as “fracturing”: where the conscious and subconscious mindscapes warp and no longer agree on the reality around them, struggling for dominant perception. The subject’s mind becomes an internal battlefield as their brain wars with itself, the eventual victor to dictate which reality the subject will perceive as true.
The young girl displayed all the outward symptoms of a complete mental breakdown, though still not technically conscious. Her facial muscles spasmed and twitched as she sobbed uncontrollably. It was at this time that I noticed that her shadow had completely vanished from its place upon the canvass sheet. I double checked the angle of the spotlight on her body and was sure the shadow should be there. I looked to the observation window and saw my two assistants in a visible panic. One was covering her mouth in muted shock while the other was frantically pointing to the corner of the room, where the shadow now was. It was roughly the girl’s height but had crouched over in a quasi-bestial stance, undulating as though it were breathing. One of my assistants buzzed through the intercom and asked if she should stop the audio track, to which I disagreed and shouted to continue as planned.
I was scared but my devotion to my research trumped most primitive hang-ups.
I watched the shadow prowl around the room, its faceless visage obviously fixated on the girl’s twitching body; I don’t even think it knew I existed. The closer it got to the subject the more distressed the subject became. I increased the rapidity of my recited triggers and told them to increase the RPMs of the track. And two minutes after the first manifested shadow appeared, a second one materialized at the opposite side of the room. This instance was far taller and broader than the first shadow, which became panicked and agitated as the second presence was felt in the room. It looked like a man and wielded a whip-like appendage from its right hand, wildly lashing around as it closed the distance to the subject. It was also accompanied by the stench of whiskey. Though both instances were featureless, I have since come to the determination that the appendage closely resembled a clothing belt. I watched the two figures silently swipe and jerk towards each other, all the while circling the increasingly distraught young girl. I let this continue for 60 seconds before ending the experiment. Both manifestations immediately dissipated upon waking the subject, who had suffered no physical injuries beyond a common nosebleed, likely due to exhaustive mental/physical exertion. The room retained no notable evidence of the bizarre encounter, nor did either of the anomalies appear on any of the recorded footage. The scent of sour mash did linger for a few moments before completely dissipating. Both of my assistants asked to be reassigned after the debriefing, and the girl was relinquished to the hospital wing for routine observation. I believe this session was a success.
My Marine subject’s session played out vastly different.
The first umbra (lightless shadow) appeared immediately as the subject fractured, and where the girls first instance resembled her in form, this one looked nothing like the brawny young man strapped in the stirrups. It was gangly and decrepit, abnormally long thin arms dragging it along the ground. Its stubby legs were limply drug behind it, and its pinned forehead scraped along the ground, as if its neck was too weak to lift it. As it slowly moved towards the increasingly distressed subject, a second umbra popped out of the medicine cabinet behind me. It was the height of a child, nimbly hopping around on legs with reversed knee joints and sporting no discernible arms. Then out popped the third umbra, then the fourth, both identical to the second. The three of them darted between the lightless patches of the room, seemingly taunting the first prostrate manifestation. I could also detect the abrasive aroma of discharged carbon and diesel fuel. My two new assistants, who’s nerves had been re-steeled by a hefty salary increase, announced that the subject’s heart-rate was dangerously high. As I was about to give the order to end the session, the subject began to scream, and the umbra’s screamed with him. The ensuing cacophony shorted my earpieces and cracked the observation glass before I could motion to cut the audio track. I now had explicit evidence that these entities could interact with the physical world.
I had evidence that monsters exist, and it was time to see what lurked in the nether of my own subconscious.
This was my third mistake.
The preparation for my fracturing was extensive to say the least. I had brought in two more assistants, on loan from the neurology department, and my neurologist colleague to supervise the event. This brought the count to five. I had also procured two security specialists from the black-budget part of Gateway referred to as ‘the basement’. These specialists were NOT to observe the session and were to remain in the observation room to prevent any possible cowardice from disrupting its execution. The total now numbered eight with me included. One of my new assistants also had an art background (lol, electives) and was instructed to sketch any materialized umbra’s and their interactions. I had also installed a large digital clock to be positioned directly in front of my face, as to attempt to track the time while in paralysis. All the pieces and precautions were set; I was strapped into the traction stir-ups at exactly 2108hrs and was asleep at 2111hrs.
After comparing the collected data and their respective occurrence along the session timeline, my episode began at 2128hrs and I fractured at 2131hrs. The first thing I recall while in fracture, other than overwhelming fear, was the scent of burning cinnamon. My vision was wholly disjointed and erratic, but I could make out the slightest movement from what I now believe was the first umbra. I also remembered that my surroundings began to shift. The walls of the examination room splintered and crumbled away, revealing a limitless void, pitch black but still somehow discernible in its dimensions. It resembled a calm sea of pure darkness; this is how I imagine astronauts describe the crushing enormity of deep space (yes- humans have already been to deep space, many times). Though I couldn’t quite decipher the contours of the umbra that stalked the outskirts of my sight, I could see it effortlessly traverse the oceanic expanse without making a single ripple. It was similar to me in size and looked vaguely humanoid, and despite its featureless exterior, was mind-numbingly dreadful to look at. I also knew it was trying to talk to me. I didn’t hear it, nor did I see anything that could’ve been construed as a mouth; I just KNEW it was talking to me.
The second umbra came into view at 2141hrs, and it was the size of ocean liner. It fell from somewhere above and crashed into the formless sea in a display of chaotic terror, puncturing any actionable recall I had of the event.
I awoke at 2201hrs, drenched in sweat and panting heavily while standing in the center of examination room. One of the security specialists was scattered along the floor in several mauled pieces, the other cowering in the corner and crying. The viewing glass to the observation room was shattered and its walls were festooned with scarlet brushstrokes of weeping blood. I quizzically shambled over and peered through the jagged frame; two of the assistants had also been eviscerated, with the remaining three huddled under the desk. The debriefing was a bit more unhinged than protocol would normally dictate, shock having arrested the coherence of my assistants. Though they were unable to sketch any umbral instance, the recorded footage displayed what I assumed it would: me suspended in fracture and convulsing. The vital monitors reported that I flat-lined during the episode, which prompted the security team to attempt CPR. The one that touched me was immediately torn apart by an invisible force, while the other was thrown back and crumbled against a wall. My neuro-comrade demanded I cease any further research on the matter, claiming this phenomenon is proof we are not ready to walk this line. I, of course rebuked him, which prompted him to report the incident to the boys and girls upstairs; I haven’t seen him since.
Despite the regrettable death and implication of continuing the study, I believed this session was a success, and so did my superiors. I was given an entire floor of the Gateway to continue my research, as well as a full roster of personnel that were contractually bound to participate: test subjects, security member, vastly experienced assistants. Couple this with an unrestricted budget and an obscenely bolstered salary, and my new goal was undeniably clear: I was to capture a monster for the boys and girls upstairs.
This would be fourth mistake.