I surfed the Web until they locked up the public cluster; then I wandered around campus for a couple of hours until I found myself back in my room. I tried to call my sister once, but the number I had was no longer working. After participating in the study, I’d already lost the habits that let me get through the night. I was thinking in terms of hours and minutes again, and I could feel the agonizingly protracted passage of each one.
The next day I called in sick at the library; there was no way I could do my job. Instead, I went to the studio and fooled around with my paints. “East 54th” was bothering me. I felt like I should have started with a larger canvas; something just out of sight was itching in my skull.
When I got to Harte’s office that afternoon, Lily was nowhere to be seen. Instead, the tall grad student, David, was there with the professor, glaring down at me as if I’d tracked mud on his carpet. They babbled about ramping up my subconscious activity with the larger dose of the drug, inducing a hyperclear state of lucid dreaming. David sneered slightly throughout.
Whatever. To hell with them. I told Harte I’d do it.
* * *
They checked my pulse rate, blood pressure, weight and other vitals, and rolled an EEG machine into my room. The grad student hooked me up while Harte filled a syringe from a vial of violet liquid. I didn’t feel anything much after Harte gave me the injection. David told me to lie back and relax.
About five minutes later, I heard David say, “There’s the spike,” and then the room dissolved around me.
* * *
Stage One of the project was drawing the thoughts and images my mind was spinning out; Stage Two was being thrust inside the drawings. I spent every night of the next two weeks watching my own dreams from the inside, fully aware. Sometimes I saw it from a first person perspective. Sometimes I was outside myself, and could control my body like an avatar in an online world. Often, I wasn’t there at all, just a disembodied mind watching the show of my own unconscious.
Every night, I saw symbols and patterns that I had discussed with Lily. There were dark spaces as well, eerie vague shadows that I couldn’t quite discern no matter how hard I tried. I desperately wanted to talk to Lily about those as well. I met with Dr. Harte instead; it wasn’t the same.
Even without Lily, though, the conscious investigation of my own dreams was compelling. The rest of my days couldn’t compare. I started coasting through my shifts at the library, and after the third night of Stage Two, I stopped going to the studio altogether. Painting no longer held any interest for me; there was no need for me to translate the images in my mind into the real world when I could see them directly.
* * *
Hector called me later. He said something about someone having a seizure; it didn’t mean anything to me, so I hung up. I vaguely remember looking at the phone after that, wondering whether it had just rung.
* * *
[Go to Chapter 4.4]