Jackson stared into the bathroom mirror, trying his best to flatten his unruly brown hair.
“Hey Jack, we have to go, the experiment starts in half an hour, and I would like to be early.”
Jackson washed his face hoping he could wash off the bags under his eyes from a restless sleep the night before. “Fuck I hope I don’t have another nightmare for this experiment.” Jackson dried his face and started to head towards the door.
“Alright, I am coming, ya banshee.”
Coraline was stood waiting at the door with her face in her phone, oblivious to any tormenting from Jackson. As she noticed feet starting to appear before her, she passed out a coat which Jackson took happily.
“Ok, let’s go. I hate being late.”
The two of them made their way out of the building and into the car, which surprisingly started first try. Coraline let off a small fist pump with relief as she looked over to Jackson to see his drooping eyes stare off into the distance. No words were said as she started driving; between each gear change, she would try to hold onto his leg as a way of comforting him. After a short drive, they pulled up outside the building where the test was to be held.
“Jack, if you decide you don’t want to do this, just tell me, and we leave right away, ok? I don’t want you to start freaking out; it must be hard partaking in an experiment for science that your father disappeared studying.”
“I am too tired to care at this point, besides they were using crystals I doubt that they will get any result. Let’s just go in; at least I get to sleep during this experiment.”
They both made their way inside, again being greeted by the same door that screeched as it opened. The halls seemed a little less damp with the extra lighting they had brought in; it made Coraline feel much safer. As they returned to the room with the crystals set up, the other participant was already getting into a sleeping bag and lying down on a bed surrounded by crystals. The tall man was behind his laptop typing away, and the original examiner was setting up the second bed with the correct array of Crystals.
“Welcome, Jackson. I am setting up your bed now, Caroline. I will do yours next.”
“It is Coraline, but don’t worry, plenty of people mess it up the first few times.”
“Oh, I am sorry, Coraline; I will do my best to remember. As you can see, my partner here is typing away, setting up the experiment as we speak.”
“No, I am not; I finished setting it up ages ago.”
“What are you doing then?”
“Messaging some chick I met on Friday; she sounds like a freak. Judging by your face, I should stop that for a while and get ready for the final setup?”
“Yea, you should. Message her off your phone once these lots are asleep and the system is booted.”
Both Jackson and Coraline got onto their respective beds after the crystals were placed and proceeded to go to sleep; the tall man at the computer touched a few buttons, and the adaptor light lit up blue.
“Ok, now we wait; I will go to sleep first. Just make sure you look up from your phone screen to check the monitor on occasion.”
“I will, don’t worry; sadly enough, I would like the experiment to go right more than I would like to catch up with this chick again.”
With that, the night started to pass, and with much relief, the adaptor started transmitting data from the sleeping subjects nearly immediately after they had fallen asleep. Two hours in, and still no sign of any visual data coming back from any of the subjects. It was nearly time to switch over between examiners when the laptop made a new noise, it sounded louder than expected, and the tall man quickly turned down the volume on the laptop. After checking that everyone seemed to be still, he returned his eyes to the soft glow of the screen; in the center of the screen was a prompt to play a recently downloaded video.
In hushed tones behind his hands, he exclaimed. “Oh shit, oh shit, we did it.”
He walked over to his friend, gently nudging him awake.
“Come look, it worked!”
“Really?” The still-waking examiner yelled in surprise, quickly covering his mouth and staring around the room. Coraline seemed to be moving in the dark but stopped shortly after. They both ran to the laptop and hit play, making sure they had headphones plugged in. As they watched, their eyes widened with excitement; they started to shake as another file prompted to be played.
“The subjects are going to freak in the morning!”
Neither of the examiners slept the rest of the night; they spent their time organizing the files and getting prepared for their morning presentation.
9AM rolled around, and alarms sounded from several cheap alarm clocks placed at the heads of each bed. Everyone sluggishly moved from their sleeping positions, propping themselves up to see two very excited examiners.
Jackson started rubbing his eyes and yawned. “I am guessing something went right.”
“Everything went right, we have some calibration issues, but we can sort that. Do you all want to see the dreams you had last night?”
The subjects looked at each other briefly and then ran over to the laptop. Open on it was three files, each one labeled after each of the subjects.
“I guess we go alphabetical, so Coraline first. You have to understand this is the first time this has worked, nothing is one hundred percent clear, but it is there.”
Coraline’s file was opened to reveal four video files simply labeled one through four.
“We have already watched all of your dreams; we can say this is an underwhelming result if you are expecting great video quality. We clearly did not sync any of you right, so the link is hazy to be nice.”
The first video started to play, and everyone watched intently as images started to appear. The video was nearly completely covered in static, but every so often, there would be an opening, and an image could be made out. After going through all four of Coraline’s videos, it was apparent that no one was truly going to see their dreams. Out of curiosity, they went through all the other videos, but in the end, none of the subjects could confirm nor deny if these were truly their dreams.
“We understand that this is the end of the testing week, but we truly believe if we can put a portfolio together, we can get funding and continue this research. We discussed this last night and agreed we would only continue if we could use you guys all the way through. You have to understand, though, that we may not have the blessing of weekend work; we may have to do week-based work as demonstrations.”
The third subject pulled a disappointed face, “I am sorry guys, I don’t have the free time to just jump out of class; you are going to have to count me out.”
“We understand. Don’t worry; we know it is a lot to ask for.”
“Both Jackson and I will do it; whenever you need us, just call.” Coraline started to write down both of their phone numbers and proceeded to hand them over to the two examiners.
“Excellent. We will be in contact as soon as we have spread the word.”
Coraline ushered Jackson out of the building; she brimmed with excitement.
“I can’t believe it actually worked. Isn’t this amazing? Why don’t you look amazed?”
Jackson was lost in space, staring out into nothing. “I am just so surprised it actually worked; I don’t know how I feel just yet.”
Reading the mood, Coraline calmed down, getting back into her car, watching as Jackson walked straight past down the road. Sighing, she turned her key and started driving back home without him.
“I might be able to see my father again; this could be amazing. But I doubt that these guys will achieve that. Am I just setting myself up for disappointment? This isn’t even a real science; it is just a whole bunch of stupid shit.”
Jackson walked until the sun fell behind him, talking to himself the whole time. Debating whether he was ready to see his father again or even if it was possible to see him again. As the air cooled, he made his way back home, where he walked in on Coraline hanging up her phone.
“Who was that?”
“It was…well, the dream guys. I just realized that we do not know their dreams.”
“What did they want? We only finished their test this morning.”
“They were asking if we wanted to head back tonight for another test. But I told them we can’t, so don’t worry, we can just relax at home.”
“Na, fuck that, let’s do it. Trust me, I am sure I will grab my things. You call them back; I will wait in the car.”
Coraline was hesitant; she was uncertain about how this was affecting Jackson. Her hesitance was crushed by her curiosity for the experiment, and she called them back. The drive over to the experiment was quiet; the walk to the experiment had an eerie feeling as the sound of their shoes echoed around the hall, making it sound as if people were walking behind the two. Once they reached the room where the experiment was being held, the mood changed.
“Come in; these are the head of our department here at the university; they are here to see how our machine works.”
Jackson had very little interest in anyone in the room; faking a yawn, he moved over to a bed.
“Is this one mine? Sorry, I am so tired and would like to get to sleep before the feeling fades.”
Coraline knew he was lying, but she wanted to help him.
“Yea, me too. Can we get this going? We have some hard night’s sleeping to do.”
“um, very well. Yes, Jackson, that is yours; we shall begin now if you two are ready to start.”
Both Coraline and Jackson lay down and went to sleep. Meanwhile, the two examiners sat with their lecturers to observe the process.
“This does take a while; it would be best to take turns sleeping.”
The lecturers agreed that one of the examiners and one of the lecturers went to sleep while the others stayed up. Again, the first shift was nearly over when the first video came through, this one noticeably larger in size than the last, yet it had a similar length.
“You need to teach your machine to compress; no twenty-second video needs to be a full Gigabyte.”
“This is odd; the last files were only a couple of megs; it could be because we re-calibrated the system. It may be a negative side effect or an indication of improved video quality.”
As the two watched the footage, their eyes widened, and the flickering of the screen dimmed as the video ended. Both the examiner and the lecturer turned and stared at Jackson before their attention was caught by a new video file coming in, this time even larger. As they stared at Jackson, they noticed his body twitching and his face scrunching up.
“No wonder he is squirming; I would be if I was having these nightmares too.”
“I guess Coraline was right. They did have some hard nights sleeping ahead of them.”