12 April, 2020, 8 AM PT; somewhere in the suburbs of Los Angeles.

“What makes you guys shout and yell so early in the morning?” Kate groaned as she walked into the living room with her dishevelled hair and drowsy eyes, casually swiping away the unusually high number of notifications on her cellphone. She was woken by the loud and urgent conversation of her roommates, Joe and Amar.

“Kate, you would not believe what’s going on.”, Joe remarked in a tone which did little to suppress his thrill.

Amar looked somewhat more concerned as he said, “You know what? Me and Joe had the same dream last night, about some crazy, shadowy figure with…”

“With a hundred huge tentacles and blabbering some nonsensical shit?”, interrupted Kate, or rather finished what Amar was about to say.

“There we have it, another live lab-rat in front of us!”, exclaimed Joe.

Kate looked baffled, and fully awoken from her state of slumber now. “Wait a second, you can’t be serious? Not that it sounds any less preposterous, still I could’ve believed two persons having the same nightmare. But three of us dreaming the same thing, that’s pretty much impossible guys! I mean, I came back at four, and both of you were asleep by the time I went to my bed. Come on, if this is some half-assed attempt at a prank, I’m gonna murder ya both.”

Joe and Amar were unfazed, with a look of distress slowly creeping up their faces.

For a brief moment, Kate assessed if she was in fact being pranked by her roommates, but seeing their morbid expressions quickly made her reject that possibility. “Why’re you looking at me like that, you jerks?”

“Kate, do you remember what it said?”, Amar replied after a pause.

“Uh, I don’t think I do. Why?”

Joe sat upright and said, “Was it something like, uh, the reality being a hoax?”

Kate appeared to be at a loss of wits as the words reached her ears, her own memory slowly trickling back to her. “Oh shut up! This cannot be real! It’s borderline insanity now!”

“Tell us Kate! What the hell did it say?” Amar exclaimed.

“Now that Joe said, yeah it was something of the sort — about the world we live in being a fabricated version of reality, and that it was here to liberate us and reveal us the truth… uh even saying this out loud makes me feel so stupid!”

“Congratulations Kate! For the first time in a long time, you aren’t the only stupid person in this room, or hell, in the country!”, commented Joe.

This cheeky banter seemed to lighten up Kate’s spirits for a moment, before the levity of Joe’s words dawned upon her.

“IN THE COUNTRY?!”

Joe burst out laughing. Even Amar couldn’t help himself from letting out a chuckle after Kate’s sudden realisation and eventual disbelief.

“Check the news and social media dude. Some random folks awkwardly posted about their weird dreams on their timeline and it wasn’t long before more people started chipping in. In a few hours, it’s trending everywhere and everyone is losing their minds.”

“But… but it’s only 8, and I don’t think many people would be up here so early already?”

“You are not getting it Kate! There are people from the East Coast, who’ve been going mental for the last two to three hours! People from California and other states have just joined in on the madness.”

Kate tried to calm her thoughts. She still wasn’t sure if she should consider this as one massive practical joke that some wackadoodle had somehow managed to pull off, or if she should be disturbed that a whole nation had now woken up sharing a dream. This was too much to take at once. “Okay, what about other countries, or is it just us?”

“So far, there are only reports from the States.”, Amar replied.

“Isn’t that great now!” Kate commented sarcastically, clapping her hands together as she slumped on the couch. Her phone buzzed again, it was a notification from Los Angeles Times: ‘REPORT: Thousands of Americans claim to have the same dream’.

* * *

13 April, 2020, 10 AM IST; Centre for Advanced Research in Neuroscience (CARN), Mumbai

“I guess it’s finally happening to us as well sir.”, Lakshmi spoke as a matter of fact as she walked into Dr. Satyanweshi Bakshi’s office.

“I’m afraid that might be the case Lakshmi.”, Dr. Bakshi sighed. “Just to be sure, it was the same huge and dark entity with tentacles jutting out of its body in your dream too?”

“Yes sir. And although it’s very muddy, but I vaguely remember it saying that the the fabric of our reality is going to come apart soon.”

“Ah yes, I remember it saying something like that too, that it was going to present us the true reality?”

“So that means along with the Americans who reported it yesterday, Indians, Chinese, Australians and the rest of Southeast Asia and East Pacific have also joined the list.”

“Correct, what I understand is that it’s sweeping the entire globe now. I won’t be alarmed if the Africans and Europeans report the same thing within the next few hours. What remains to be seen right now is if this whole phenomenon is a one-time event or is this insanity going to continue. I think we shall have our answer by today’s evening, if Americans have the same dream for another consecutive night. What did…”

He was interrupted by his buzzing cellphone. It was Amar, his son who was studying astrophysics at UCLA.

“Is everything all right Amar, you don’t usually call me at this hour?”

“Not the least dad. I was at the library at around 9:30 PM and was about to leave, when I dozed off without even knowing. I just woke up a few minutes ago, and guess what — I had the exact same dream right now, just like the one last night. I checked the news and reports have started emerging of other people who also fell asleep against their will, completely unintentionally. I’m heading home right now, me and my roommates have decided that we’ll try to stay awake for the whole night. Speaking of, I read that other Asian countries are also reporting of this dream?”

“Yes Amar, I was also an unfortunate victim of this terrible dream last night. I have to say, in more than 50 years of my life, I have never come across something so bizarre. We’ll see what we can do here, in fact I’ll start digging into the matter right away.”

* * *

17 April, 2020; excerpts from The Guardian:

“The inexplicable psychological anomaly engulfing the entire human race, dubbed ‘Global Hallucinating and Odd Sleeping Trend (GHOST)’, has started taking a gradually intensifying and serious toll on people’s daily affairs, resulting in utter chaos and threatening to put a full stop to all societal, economical, political and cultural activities. Leaders of multiple nations have advised people to go about their daily routine with extreme care and precautions, however there does not appear to be any viable safeguard against this pandemonium. There’s been a marked rise in road accidents as drivers fell asleep and dreamt of the mysterious creature which no one has been able to accurately identify yet. Two airplanes have also crashed, leading to the deaths of over 400 people.

People are randomly falling asleep, irrespective of time and place into a slumber from which it seems impossible to wake them up. Although this loss of consciousness lasts a brief period of time (usually 20–30 minutes), it’s enough to disrupt any activity which they had been doing priorly. The induced intensity of this drowsiness is reportedly higher than the medically strongest known anaesthetic agent. A number of people have tried to beat this phenomenon with the aid of caffeine and pills, with some public gatherings being organised with the intention of staying awake no matter what. Global movements, largely organised by the youth with the intention of staying awake no matter what have started trending, adding to the already soaring mass hysteria. However, despite the valiant (and somewhat naive) efforts of the public, no one has so far succeeded in getting the better of these sudden bouts of sleep.

And then there’s the case of the uncanny creature which appears in the dreams and speaks about this absurdist theory of the human race existing in a fictitious version of the reality. This creature, has been reported to appear as a huge, tenebrous being with features that are very obscure and hard to tell as well as remember. What most people remember is the horrific multitude of tentacles which look like protruding from dark pores present within the creature. Some have even claimed that this being appeared to them floating in the vastness of cosmic space, while others say that it was present overhead, watching them, as they felt slowly sinking underwater.

People have been quick to theorise what it all means. Many have come forward trying to explain this using religion, believing this to be some kind of apocalyptic demise of the planet, while others are convinced that judgement day is finally upon us, when all will be revealed. A number of underground cult groups have started spreading fears and rumours among the general public. Scientists, however haven’t been able to decipher the state of things as for now. Some have claimed that this is an elevated version of narcolepsy, a sleep disorder in which patients have uncontrollable sleepiness at odd times of the day. Others have tried to justify the dreams citing parasomnia, a disorder which causes unusual dreams and erratic emotional behaviour, leading to wild hallucinations while sleeping. No one is although, sure of how everyone in the world is subjected to the same dream. For the first time in the history of mankind, it looks like science may be at a loss of explanation.

Countries have been, as usual quick to point fingers, with the US President claiming this to be the handiwork of the Chinese administration. However, from the look of it, China does not appear to be doing particularly well too. Factories and manufacturing processes in various provinces of the country are struggling to keep up in the wake of this calamity, with handicapped workers proving a weak link in the country’s efficient production line. Economists and industry analysts are working on how this is going to impact the international markets, with some speculating it could destabilise the entire global economy if we cannot come up with ways to cope with this widespread catastrophe. Meanwhile, the United Nations has called for a meeting to discuss the situation and deliberate on proposals to tackle GHOST… “

* * *

21 April 2020; Mumbai

“So dad, you’re telling me that you failed to wake your test subjects up, by any means whatsoever?”

“Yes, Amar. First we tried the usual methods for awakening a person from a state of unconsciousness, everything from pricking needles on sensitive points to splashing ice cold water on their faces. When these turned out to be of no use we decided to conduct an EEG, or electroencephalography as well as an MRI scan of them. What we found out was most shocking — they possessed a complete lack of higher consciousness during this dream. The whole nervous system seemed to hang in a state of limbo. It was like the person had lost all sensory and motor functions. ”

“You mean coma?”

“Precisely, albeit, only for a brief period of time. But opposed to most cases of coma, these people are not capable of any slightest of movements — not a minute motion of the eye, or just a tiny twitch of any muscle in the body. When we normally dream, our brain activity is actually higher than what you may think, with the dreaming sequence being a whole cerebral cortex phenomenon. However, what is most shocking is that in these cases, the entire prefrontal cortex, along with the motor cortex is inactive. For these odd couple of minutes, the brain seems to be acting up on its own, refusing any feedback or susceptible to any inputs.”

Amar listened intently. He had flown in from Los Angeles a day before, even though travelling, especially long distances in these circumstances was highly dangerous and unadvised. However, once he got whiff of the fact that his father was heading the GHOST research team, he decided that he also wanted in.

Dr. Bakshi continued, “I recently spoke to my colleague Dr. Robertson in Toronto, his team conducted similar tests and came to an analogous conclusion. They also collected blood samples and conducted thorough tests, but did not find traces of any chemicals or drugs, which would give rise to this sort of anomaly.”

“But how can medicine explain the nature of the dream? How can everyone claim to have seen this exact same dream. Even if this was some sort of microbial phenomenon, how could it have spread so fast? Heck, I saw the awful dream again on the flight yesterday.”

“Yes, I had the dream last night as well. From what I noticed in my tests, we are not even aware that we are dreaming; we are in no position to exercise our consciousness or rationality to control our emotions. It’s like a case of lucid dreaming, but with the dreamer all but helpless, with no control over one’s actions, surroundings or consequences, unable to think, unable to speak and unable to move, like a ship in its stays.”

“Do you have any faintest of idea what could be causing GHOST?”

“I have ideas, but I fear that these ideas may not be enough for finding an answer to this utter turmoil, an answer which has been eluding all of us.”

* * *

25 June, 2020; excerpts from The New York Times:

“It has been more than two months since GHOST mysteriously engulfed the planet, baffling and devastating mankind. Experts from different fields have been working hard to gain even a sliver of comprehension of this condition as the dead bodies keep on piling. After much thought and analysis, WHO has termed GHOST an ‘unprecedented psychological disease’, with professionals working round the clock in search for a cure, though one wonders if there can be a cure to something we fail to understand?

In the past week, there have been reports that the frequency as well as duration of these dreams have increased, fanning the flames of an already out of control fire. People are nervous in going about their daily lives, in fear of being struck upon by the wrath of GHOST while in the middle of something, say driving. A stark increase in the sales of driverless cars reaffirms these fears and solves a major problem to some extent, with many countries cashing in on driverless public transport in these troubled times. Much of the people are still apprehensive of departing their homes, with many venturing outside only for procuring rations and other essential items, and the once bustling streets and cityscapes are now haunted with the shadow of an eerie silence and a tremendous vacancy. However, what’s caused the biggest uproar is that in the last few days, some people who were struck with this dream inducing sleep failed to wake up altogether, eventually dying.

GHOST has also had some disconcerting outcomes — for the first time in the twenty-first century, there has been a decrease in oil demands and power consumption, largely stemming from the fact that many industries and daily life in general has stopped dead in its tracks. Global economy has been destabilised with prices falling and the stock markets in multiple countries coming crashing down. It feels like the very foundation of modern human civilisation is hanging by the neck, and the world looks like it’s gearing up for a situation it wasn’t ready for yet.

A peculiar thing to note though, this past month has witnessed a growing sense of community among the public. For this first time, humanity is facing a challenge which does not discriminate, it shows no prejudice, no bias nor does it look to put any certain group at a disadvantage. The innate finger-pointing which ensued in the early weeks quickly subsided after it became known that no one, not a single soul was spared by this confounding affliction. A huge number of people are now suggesting, that this might just be how our planet withers, how our race comes to an end, brought down to its knees by mere dreams (a point could also be made for how the dreams are affecting our rationality and mental stability). All around the globe, everyone just wants this madness to stop, with most wishing to stay well and alive in this world, even if it means living through a humbugged existence, rejecting the creature’s outlandish proposals altogether. People are choosing to stay with their loved ones, cherish these fleeting moments and come to terms with not only one’s, but mankind’s own mortality.”

* * *

10 December, 2020, 10 PM IST; Dr. Bakshi’s apartment, Mumbai

It had been twenty eight days since the world breathed back to normalcy, since the bloodbath came to an end, since hope was restored (to whatever extent possible). Dr. Bakshi dragged his feet out of the elevator and towards his apartment, the fancy, incandescent lights in the corridor casting a weirdly deformed shadow behind him, which he also dragged along. His eyes felt dreary, even though the dreams had stopped, he hadn’t been able to sleep properly. “Twenty eight days without a decent sleep could drive you mad”, he mused, “Maybe I already am, or maybe I had gone mad long before; long before my world changed, long before I…”

He fetched the keys out of his pocket and unlocked the door, involuntarily losing his track of thought. He walked straight to his bedroom and sat, almost fell like a person worn by misery on the bed. His room looked the same as it did twenty eight days ago, but the whole apartment was laden with an air of ruin. “I can’t live here”, he thought, “not after everything that’s happened.” He had returned the instruments and equipments he had acquired from the lab on a temporary basis, not that anyone cared, but he couldn’t bear the sight of those wretched contrivances anymore. Dr. Bakshi really wanted to wake up from this hyper-realistic dream, he couldn’t wait for the world to go back to how it existed twenty eight days before, to a time when everyone was as full of despair as him, to a time when his son was still alive.

“What is done is done”, he told himself, knowing full well that he’d perpetrated what was required of him, what humanity would had him do (he felt a tumultuous amount of grief and an irrepressible anger at this thought), and yet knowing full well that his real deed would stay buried forever. Humanity could not thrive bearing a truth so cruel and harsh, and the world had to, thrive more than anything else currently. No, it was of paramount importance that it remained this way, for no one should know what Dr. Satyanweshi Bakshi had really done. It was to be his penance, a secret that he’d take to his grave, the shame and failure that he would carry around his neck like a noose forever until his time came; he had done the unspeakable, the one thing even the evilest of men could not bring themselves to do, a monster’s feat, the likes for whom the deepest pits in hell were reserved — he had killed his son.

“No!”, Dr. Bakshi let out a manic scream, “I did not kill him! He chose to do this, he pushed me to do this! I was helpless!” He tried reassuring himself by repeating this over and over in his head, trying to convince himself that he was not a murderer. He slumped his back into the bed, hands covering his face. He felt he should spill a tear or two, but found his body unable to do so. What he was able to do was remember that night vividly. Twenty eight nights later, the events of that cursed night were still imprinted in his mind like a freshly etched grave.

It had been almost two months since GHOST had wreak havoc on the planet. He’d been spending his days (and nights) holed up in his office. The last couple weeks had been hard, hard on him just like everyone else. Some of his colleagues had resigned, giving up any hope of finding a cure. The global crisis the world was dreading had just begun, and it felt like it was only going to get worse. Dr. Bakshi though, laboured on, he felt his life’s work had built up to this. He’d spent years trying to conduct research on consciousness, a subject that he believed was very poorly understood. No one was sure of what it signified, what it meant or could mean, and worst of all, no one saw it as a field appealing enough to spend years studying. And by no one, he meant both his fellow researchers and the authorities. He had spent years trying to receive funding and had failed spectacularly. Ultimately, he gave up and decided to pour whatever he had into this endeavour of his, and thus, without anyone knowing, he decided to utilise the lab’s assets and equipments — whatever he could find a use of — and embarked on a mission to decipher consciousness.

This was some years ago, he could not remember how many exactly anymore. He would soon find his resolve, as strong as it may be, was not strong enough; working on a tight budget with limited resources was already hard, but doing so in its strictly private nature would prove a mountain too high to climb. Yet he persisted, taking his time and wading through the murky waters; he hadn’t come across anything of notice yet, but he had a feeling that he was just on the brink of a breakthrough. And then, the world went to shit. However, even when everything in life looked to be heading downwards, Dr. Bakshi found an unlikely ally, his only support in these hopeless times: his son, Amar.

Amar had returned to Mumbai days after the first reports of GHOST emerged. Dr. Bakshi had strictly advised against doing so, he did not want him to leave his studies at UCLA and it was mighty dangerous to travel over such long distances anyway, but against all cautions he came back. He said he wanted to assist his father in his research, and assist he did. Although Dr. Bakshi did not admit it openly, to some extent, he was elated with his son’s arrival. You see, Amar was a terrifically gifted boy, Dr. Bakshi couldn’t have been more proud of his son and now more than ever, he needed someone of his calibre to share his ideas with, to discuss his findings and mull on what he could and should be doing next. They were both fixed upon making sense of this unsolvable enigma.

His initial test runs had proven to be largely unsuccessful. While the lab was still functional, he had hit a brick wall with the host subjects not responding to any variants of stimuli. Dr. Bakshi brainstormed for days before it would occur to him. He was unfortunately attempting to employ physical stimuli to attract a response, when he should have been trying neurological ones. The body was not susceptible to any form of force or pain with which it could be broken free of the gripping sleep. But upon applying stimulants to the brain when it was in the dream state, there were noticeable changes on the electroencephalograph, however not enough to produce any concrete results. With extreme caution he increased the number of electrodes, but it still wasn’t nearly adequate to draw a clear conclusion.

“This is leading nowhere.”, Dr. Bakshi thought. He felt he needed to perform a high density electrode EEG to gain more insights. “But wouldn’t we need clearance from the authorities to conduct something of the sort?”, Lakshmi, his assistant enquired. “Do you think we have the time to sit around waiting for a clearance? It may take up days for that.”, Dr. Bakshi said, “No, I don’t think fate has left us with much alternatives, we’ll have to do this now, let’s think about the formalities and paperwork later, shall we?”

And thus, he began his covert operations, with Amar and Lakshmi as his only confidants (his volunteering subject was glad to comply, although he was not made privy to the illicit way of proceedings). And this was when they started making real progress, after weeks of feeling helpless and forlorn, there finally appeared a way out of all this misery, all this gloom. The electroencephalograms were showing encouraging signs, with the brain activity gradually exhibiting improvements. It was almost as if the brain was trying to communicate in some way as the body lay motionless. Dr. Bakshi had always believed, or liked to believe consciousness to be some sort of scantily understood form of energy, which if harnessed the right way, could be made to exist out of the body. With each passing day came more tests, and he couldn’t wait to live the day when his deductions would be validated. Instead, there would come a day when everything they’d worked towards would come crashing down blazingly.

“Amar, increase the voltage gain by ten decibels.”

“But dad we are already well past the acceptable level threshold, do you think doing so would be safe?”, Amar asked concernedly.

“I think he’s right Doctor, we have to be very careful at this stage.”

“I know he’s right Lakshmi, but we surely cannot abandon what we’ve done so far? See, we’ve been conducting tests with the present specifications for the last three days and while we have made some progress, it’s not been enough, has it? It’s only logical that we heighten the brain’s response even further.”

And so Amar did as instructed. For a few minutes, it looked like increasing the gain hadn’t, in fact, resulted in any remarkable change. Dr. Bakshi ordered, “Increase it by ten more.” Amar hesitated for a moment, but then as he was just about to reach for the control knob, all hell broke loose. The EEG machine rattled restlessly, the graph lines on the screen which earlier rose and fell only slightly, were now shaped like ocean waves caught in a storm. Dr. Bakshi was dumbstruck, he tried to figure out what was happening but was too shocked to think.

“Stop the machine Amar!”, Lakshmi cried out feebly, barely containing a scream. “No wait! Take a look at the EEG!”, Dr. Bakshi exclaimed. Amar rushed to the screen beside his father and it did not take him long to find the reason behind the hint of gleam in his father’s eyes.

“It’s… like a Morse code.”, Amar remarked.

“Exactly. Four letters repeated over and over again, if I’m not wrong.”

Amar grabbed a pen and a sheet of paper and quickly jotted down the transcription. His father was right indeed, the message was four letters: H-E-L-P

They were truly at a loss of words now. They were obviously not prepared for such a radical outcome. The subject was still experiencing the dream, however if he was seeing anything different now yet remained unknown, which would only be revealed once he was awake again. “I think I should switch it off now.”, Amar said in an almost hoarse voice, cutting through the air which was filled by an uneasy silence except for the deep, groaning rumble of the machine. Dr. Bakshi started pacing anxiously as Amar walked towards the controls, when Lakshmi exclaimed, “Here, the graph’s changing!”.

Dr. Bakshi hurried back to the monitor, “The patterns are repeating again. Quickly now, Amar!”, but Amar was already on it, trying to make head and tail of the strange, disorderly ordered graph. It was relaying more than a single word now, and acting at a feverish pace, Amar decoded the message: Y-O-U S-H-O-U-L-D-N-T H-A-V-E D-O-N-E T-H-I-S

This time, all three of them gasped in horror. And without warning, as quickly as the patterns had appeared, the graph went flat. It took them a few moments to notice that the rumble of the machine was now replaced by a disturbing beeping noise, as the EEG and the ECG both flatlined simultaneously. Lakshmi was the first one to realise, which made her bury her face into her hands. Amar was rooted to the spot as Dr. Bakshi ushered him out of the laboratory. It was madness, time seemed to slow down as reluctantly, everyone came to terms with the fact that the subject was dead.

None of them could have anticipated the horrors that would ensue after this. The next day, there were reports of seven deaths all around the globe, the victims dozed off and never woke up, just like Dr. Bakshi’s subject. The day after that, it was fifteen, and with each passing day, the numbers kept increasing. People were still suffering from the sudden spells of dream-inducing sleep, only this time, some never got a chance to wake up. People tried to find a pattern, something, anything that would link these deaths, but it was completely random; indiscriminate and dispassionate. The whole planet was on a death row, but no one knew when their name would be called.

The lab shut down soon after this incident. Dr. Bakshi was crestfallen, he cursed himself, he couldn’t have imagined that his actions would bring such a world-altering effect. All he wanted was to try and help everyone, but in his hubris and vanity, he had proved to be the harbinger of humanity’s doom upon itself. For days, he locked himself up, trying to find where his error lay. Amar persistently kept asking, “Dad, how did it go wrong? Where was it that we messed up?”. And when he did find the error, he could not bring himself to speak the truth. He was ashamed of himself, he would do everything in his power to go back in time and prevent himself from making this fatal mistake if he could. But he had failed and he knew nothing could change that.

Then one morning brought news that Lakshmi, his assistant, too had fallen victim to GHOST. Dr. Bakshi couldn’t bear to live with the guilt anymore, this was a tipping point for him. He broke down, he was done lying, he had to come clean now. He walked over to his son and lay bare his confession — Dr. Bakshi had found that to control the neurological response, they had to first reconstruct the intercranial current source for the EEG signal, so that the the brain could be mapped to tether to the shadowy, tentacled entity which was taking over our brain and body, the root cause of GHOST. Stimulating the neurons may have elicited an initial response from the host, but it also opened up a pathway for the creature to overrun the entire nervous system, eventually resulting in the subject’s death. If they could turn this into a one-way channel, there might be a chance to get rid this vile being. “But you see Amar, the currents produce potentials that cancel each other out, giving rise to something which is referred to as the ‘inverse problem’. In other words, it’s mathematically impossible to do what we’re attempting.”

Amar took a deep breath, slowly processing all this glum information. He stared at his father’s death-smeared countenance, the once venerated man looked like a pale shadow of his former self now. He recalled all those times when his father had helped him get back up on his feet, guided him when he desperately needed someone to, now it was his onus to reciprocate. “Didn’t you use to say that’s a term for the unwilling?”

Dr. Bakshi raised his head to look up at his son. He swelled up, his eyes bulging with tears. He was overcome with an outlandish, poignant feeling, his twenty-two year old son was demonstrating the kind of nerves and resolve he could never muster. Why, shouldn’t he have at least an ounce of responsibility to right his wrongs, an ounce of shame for how his failings had brought upon eternal destruction to the lives of so many? It filled him up with a great displeasure, almost infuriating him, how could he allow himself to wallow in self-pity and let his failure get the better of him? Not wasting another moment, he committed himself once again to fulfil the impossible, together with his son.

So they toiled and laboured. They started out by salvaging whatever hardware equipments and the existing research materials and papers they could from Dr. Bakshi’s office and reshaped their apartment in the form of a makeshift laboratory (the authorities were although bewildered at the request to borrow EEG and MRI machines and other surgical tools). Weeks turned into months, they would make some breakthroughs, then hit more roadblocks. As time went on, Dr. Bakshi’s drive and optimism would sometimes begin to ebb, but his pillar of strength — his son did not waver. It was him who kept Dr. Bakshi’s spirits alive and added fuel to the fire whenever it looked in the danger of being extinguished.

One morning, as Dr. Bakshi woke and stepped out of his room, his eyes still weary from the intense lack of sleep, he found Amar sitting on the dining table holding a bunch of sheets and staring at them earnestly. “Good Morning, Amar.”, Dr. Bakshi greeted his son.

“I’ve solved it.”, was the reply.

He couldn’t believe his eyes when he looked at his son’s work, it was impeccable. He went through it rigorously — once, twice, thrice, and then multiple times all over again, closely inspecting for any miscalculation or fallacy, but could find none. He was taken by disbelief, it was indeed a work of genius. He was exhilarated at the prospect of a problem deemed impossible to solve by almost every neuroscientist to have ever lived (and those who didn’t, had failed miserably so far) was dealt with such a sublimity by his prodigious son. “We should be able map the brain to deal with that crazy thing now right?”, Amar asked.

“Theoretically, we should. But after what happened last time… I’m not certain of success.”, Dr. Bakshi replied. “There are still complications to deal with though. We cannot proceed by simply placing the electrodes on the subject’s scalp, we’ll have to employ invasive electrodes which must be placed directly on the brain, in other words we’ll need to perform an inter-cranial EEG. And with the state the world is in right now, no one in their right mind will consent to this. How will we find a volunteer who’s willing to be a part of this procedure?”

“But you already have one.”, Amar said in a tone which implied a graveness Dr. Bakshi had never experienced from his son before. He couldn’t believe his ears, it was a ludicrous suggestion, too inane to even bring into consideration. He rejected the idea absolutely, in no way was he going to put his son, quite literally under the knife. Yet, as soon as Amar uttered the words, he knew it was the most logical conclusion. It was a foolhardy notion, something which simultaneously made sense and didn’t. Amar pushed Dr. Bakshi to go along with his plan adamantly, while Dr. Bakshi tried to come face to face with what he was about to do.

Amar lay down on the meticulously thrown together operation table, with Dr. Bakshi about to perform his life’s most challenging caper yet. Over his long and studded career, he’d lost count of how many operations he had conducted, and he’d walked out of every single one of them confident that he had done his best. But today he was afraid, because even if he gave his best today, it may end up being not enough. He knew however, that he couldn’t let his nerves get the better of him. The next few hours could define his entire life, and easily be the most momentous event in history. He took a deep breath, and watched over his son patiently, waiting for him to fall asleep and take a plunge into the dream weaver’s world.

It was a little past 3 AM when it happened, Amar was asleep and his brain activity went almost flat. Dr. Bakshi, who had been watching over the monitor intently for the last couple hours moved towards the operation table and stood still for a moment, watching directly over his son’s innocent countenance. He suddenly felt a conviction that surprised even himself, he picked up the scalpel and let his muscle memory, developed from years of practice which had resulted in a mastery over his craft take the wheel. It was pure adrenaline that he was working on now. With a remarkable swiftness and precision, he had removed a part of his son’s skull to expose a chunk of the brain, where he placed the probing electrodes. He quickly walked over to the control panel, and with the help of Amar’s calculations, programmed it to the specific settings.

Dr. Bakshi had done everything he could, his job was over now. Now all he could do was wait and watch the events unfold. He carefully looked at the readings and waited for any sort of communication, any message from his son as the clock ticked on. Five minutes passed by, and the readings remained unchanged. Five more minutes and it was still the same. Dr. Bakshi was feeling uneasy now, there should have been some response, any response. He examined his son’s vitals, they were not great, but also not particularly terrible at the moment. He checked the watch once again as fear slowly started to creep in. Had he done something wrong? Again? He was growing more agitated and paranoid with every passing minute when suddenly, Dr. Bakshi collapsed to the floor like a puppet which just lost its marionette, his consciousness drained out of his physical body and flung into some strange, unknown place.

It was dark, everywhere he turned to look, it was dark. He couldn’t feel anything but nothingness around him, couldn’t see anything but an unending sea of blackness. He tried to move his limbs but he was stuck, he could feel walls around him, but couldn’t see them with his eyes. This feeling of helplessness was not new though, he and everyone else had endured this same helplessness in their countless dreams now. But this place, this place was not the same, it reeked of malice in a way he had never known before. And then it caught his eyes, a sight which was miraculous to behold, filling his heart with a synchrony of relief and dread. It was Amar, he was floating through the vast nothingness like an angel. He passed right beside Dr. Bakshi as he called out his name, screaming frantically, but realised it was of no use after all — Amar could not hear him. Then at once, a shape started to materialise out of the oblivion, a huge blob of dark, gooey slime. It kept rising until it towered over them. And from this blob arose hundreds of tentacles, which gradually started glowing with every possible colour on the spectral range, like a calm, gentle strobe. These appendages moved in unison, and very slowly attached themselves to another round object of a neon blue colour, almost shaped like a perfect sphere. Dr. Bakshi instantly recognised what he was witnessing — this was how this monstrous being was projecting the dreams on to the humans, manipulating them using these mystical tentacles. Amidst all this extravagant show of blinding light, he noticed a slight movement. Amar was drifting unhurriedly towards the epicentre of this blob.

Realising what was about to happen, Dr. Bakshi was caught in a fit of lunatic hysteria. Mustering all the energy left in his body, he tried to move his arms and legs, attempting to break past the invisible field that was keeping him entrapped. He again screamed his son’s name, even though he knew it would be in vain. Then like a bolt of electricity on his neck, he felt Amar’s voice speak to him, “Don’t worry dad. I’ll take it away, away from here.”, Amar let out a tender chuckle, “Wherever here is.”

Dr. Bakshi could not believe what he was hearing. A bead of tear rolled down his eyes as the gradually receding figure of his son moved closer and closer to the entity. Inches away from it now, Amar paused and turned his head around. He looked at his dad and smiled, before merging with the planet’s fiendish tormentor. In this chasm of desolation, this smile was the last thing Dr. Bakshi would remember before waking up in his apartment, and realising that his son was gone now, lost forever.

He sighed and sat upright in his bed, feeling exhausted as he brought his thoughts back to the present. He had decided that he’d sell this place off and head somewhere else, somewhere more peaceful and tranquil. Anywhere, but here. Experts had predicted that it would take at least a year for the world to return to some semblance of normalcy. Remarkably though, twenty eight days had already been enough for some people to bury the past and get on with their lives. “We’ve been handed a second chance.”, was what everyone claimed. Little did they know, that they were saved by a modest twenty-two year old, who owed nothing to this world but chose to lose everything for it. Dr. Bakshi almost wanted to laugh, he wanted to scream with laughter at the seemingly absurdist direction that life had decided to take him in. Maybe all he needed was a good dose of sleep to cure this madness, maybe all the sleep and everything else in the world could not return him his life and sanity. “This is crazy, I’m going crazy.”, he thought. It was time to get going now, he still had a lot of work to do before he could leave. He was just about to stand up when he was greeted with a familiar feeling, something which he had felt only once before — a bolt of electricity on his neck as a familiar syllable rang out in his head, “Dad?”.

Reading and writing about tech, culture, history and business most of the time. Find me at adwipal@gmail.com