This is part of Haunting’s Recollection series – it is a complete account of Nightmare by The Fear Experiment. It contains full spoilers and is intended for readers who have attended or could not attend the show, or are curious about this creator’s work.
“Are you familiar with the concept of lucid dreaming, Mr. Higgins?” the bearded man asks as he studies me from the other side of the table.
I look up from the paperwork in front of me and assure the man that I am indeed quite familiar with the concept. The idea that I could recognize I’m dreaming and change the outcome of the dream is a tantalizing one and I’m apparently not the only one to think so.
“Project Sandman,” the man continues, “will chemically induce lucid dreaming and allow you to confront your deepest fear. Once this fear is confronted, you will wake up and live a life without fear. Are you ready?”
His offer sounds good to me. I’m just signing my life away to a secret government organization operating out of a basement somewhere in Danville, IL. I’m sure no harm will come of it. I’m sure the woman writhing in agony on the nearby TV screen isn’t problematic either. Nope, everything is good here!
“Yes, I’m rea…”
Before I can even finish my sentence, a young woman with unkempt hair and a tear-stained face bursts into the room and points a pistol right at the man’s head.
“What the fuck have you done with my sister?” she demands. “I know she came here for some secret program, but it’s been months and she never came home. I know you’ve done something to her. Now where the fuck is she?” The girl turns her attention (and her gun) to me. “And you. What’s going on? Do you have anything to do with this?”
“I don’t know lady, I just got here,” I manage to blurt out, not taking my eyes off the gun barrel hovering inches from my face. Who’d have thought? There’s something sketchy about this organization after all!
Despite my efforts to slowly back away and let the distraught woman work out her grievances with Project Sandman, sans me, she grabs me, pulling me tightly to her chest. To my relief, the gun was still pointed at the bearded man and not pressed up against my skull. “Take me to her. I want to see her.”
The man disappears behind a door, leaving me alone with the woman. It seems that I am her second best option for finding her sister; she orders me to kneel down on the ground in front of a dark and uncomfortably small tunnel.
“Crawl in there and find my sister,” she orders. I’m obliged to agree. It’s a carrot or the stick scenario, only this time it’s a gun behind me and certain unknown horrors in front of me.
As I crawl through the tunnel I try not to think about how tight it is. Before the claustrophobia gets too overwhelming, I find a naked body illuminated by a small light. Is he dead? Is he sleeping? I’m not sure, but he’s definitely not the girl I’m looking for.
“Hello?” I call out. “I found someone but it’s not your sister.” I wait for a response. Nothing. Maybe they had gotten her? Maybe she went exploring somewhere else. Either way, I am alone with no choice but to keep crawling forward and over the body.
I am met at the end of the tunnel by the bearded man who immediately pulls me to my feet. Grabbing my throat he leans in and whispers, “Disobedience will not be tolerated.”
This threat ringing in my ears, I am promptly shoved into a dark cell lit only by a dim red light. It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust. A dirty mattress lies in the corner and straw covers the floor. It seems that I am alone. I pace around the room for a minute or two when some straw flies up into my face.
What the hell?
I squint into the darkest corner of the room and see a young woman curled up on the straw, shaking. This must be the girl I’m looking for. What have they done to her?
“Are… are you real?” she asks as she stands and approaches me cautiously.
“Yes I am,” I assure her before asking. “What is this place?”
She seems too overwhelmed with emotion at the real human interaction to answer my question, instead wrapping herself in my arms. For a long moment I just hold her and feel her heartbeat against my chest. I want nothing more in this moment than to help her escape from this place. How could anyone treat a human being like this – locking her up in such a dirty, dark place? Is this to be my fate as well?
Suddenly something breaks in the girl’s mind. “Get away from me!” she yells, giving me a push. “Get the fuck away. Why do you always do this to me? How could you do this to me?”
Confused and hurt, I retreat into a corner and watch as she curls back up into a ball, rocking back and forth, crying to herself. At this moment I noticed the man in the blank white mask staring at me between the cracks in the wall. His piercing glare never wavers as he leaves me feeling like a bug under a microscope.
Finally he escorts me out of the room and deeper into the complex. It seems that I will still be participating in Project Sandman after all. First, I must undergo the proper preparation. Men wearing nothing but World War I gas masks take their sweet time scrubbing down and cleaning out every inch of my body with questionable water from a bucket the larger man had just peed into, plucking my hair, and administering Rorschach tests before injecting my neck with the necessary drugs to aid in lucid dreaming.
As I am led to my bed by another masked man in a suit, I am suddenly pushed up against a wall with a hand to my throat. “My colleagues think you’re a good candidate for this program,” the man hisses. “They have faith in you. I don’t. You know what I think? I think you’re just a scared little boy.”
Resolved to prove him wrong, I stay calm as I am led to the bed and strapped down. Despite the intimidating restraints, they are kind enough to cover me in a warm blanket before I drift off to sleep.
I blink a few times and suddenly I am alone. My bed is completely enclosed by dark curtains on every side. Am I dreaming? I’m pretty sure that I am when one curtain opens on a scene of a woman breastfeeding her baby. The woman quickly notices that I’m awake and rushes over to check on me.
“Oh, my baby, are you sleepy?”
Am I this woman’s child? I’m definitely dreaming now.
One creepy lullaby later, and it is time for this baby’s meal. As Dream Mother reveals her breast and presses it into my face, I realize I’m really not that hungry after all. To my relief, Dream Mother is understanding and leaves me to fall back asleep only for another curtain to swing open. This time a masked man stands beside my bed. Unlike Dream Mother, he isn’t interested in coddling me. Instead, he unleashes a brutal tirade, making sure I know full well that my life is meaningless and wasted. He begins to smother me with a pillow before he changes his mind.
“I know you’ll do it yourself. I look in your eyes and see someone who has lost all respect for his own life. You disgust me.” With a sneer, he turns to leave, expecting me to end my own life.
One final curtain parts, revealing an old woman crying at my bedside. Is this my mom from earlier? A wife perhaps? I’m not sure, but it’s clear that I’m the reason for her tears.
“There are so many things you wanted to do, but you never did. Why did you waste every breath given to you?” The woman clasps my hand inside of her own. “Of course, it’s too late now. Why do you hold on? You’re nothing more than a burden on everyone who loves you. Please, just let go.”
The curtain drops and leaves me alone once more. These nightmares of past, present, and future feel uncomfortably real. They certainly aren’t the nightmares I anticipated confronting in the depths of the Project Sandman complex.
Without warning, the warm blanket is yanked off of the bed, leaving me chilly and a little confused. My confusion quickly turns to terror as two hands explode from the bed and grab my ankles. Fog fills the room and I can feel my heart pounding in my chest. Flashbacks to a horrifying past experience with sleep paralysis fill my head. Just like during a sleep paralysis episode, I can do nothing but watch as the skull-faced demon crawls out of the hole she has torn in the mattress.
Her face hovering above mine, she whispers, “Do you know who I am?”
“Yes, you’re Death,” I answer, cringing as black slime drips from her mouth onto my face.
“Very good. Are you ready to come with me?”
Death releases me from my restraints and leads me to an empty room with a human-sized hole dug into the concrete floor. This is it. I’ve come to the end. This is where I die.
Lying in the hole, the last thing I see before a lid is slammed down above me is Death throwing something on top of me. In the darkness, I can feel countless tiny legs creeping over my face and chest.
Please don’t be spiders. Please don’t be spiders.
Right as one of the unseen bugs is crawling uncomfortably close to my mouth, I am rescued from my grave, given my spare set of clothes, and safely returned to the outside world. As I walk back to my car, I wonder once more about the girl in the cell and her sister. I hope they make it out alive. As for me, I dreamed one hell of a dream, and I hope this isn’t the last time I encounter Project Sandman with the Fear Experiment.
MORE ABOUT HAUNTING
If you like the above article and want to find more like it, make sure to join our community. If Facebook is your favorite, follow us there and become a part of our groups for Immersive Horror fans and/or Immersive creators. We’re active on Instagram, posting evocative imagery and informative stories to promote our reviews and recollections; follow us there. You can even find us on twitter; click here to follow. For those who want to explore deeper, we have a vibrant Slack community with new event alerts and immediate ticket sale announcements; click here to join. And subscribe to our event calendar to get emails for all or specific events (look for the link right under the calendar)! Finally, we have a newsletter that comes out once a week; click here to sign up.