The exhibit was located in a small town in west Texas. On display there was a man, who supposedly had been asleep for his entire life. His name was Jeremy, and he was inside a lot of people.
“This is an interesting subject, what do you suppose it means Urooj?”
“I don’t know, Sherry, maybe it’s something about how we’re never really awake?”
“There is a proverb or something that eludes me.” Sherry’s words were detached as she stared, wide-eyed at the naked, gaunt man before her. She was momentarily blinded by the flash of a hep girl’s camera.
Jeremy softly moaned a string of unintelligible words.
“Do you think he’s a dreamer?”
“Maybe, but I think this whole lead was stupid. Do our crawlers just keyword ‘creepy’ and “art”?” Urooj swiveled his neck around to work a kink out. A perceived cramp had been bothering him all day, or so he thought. But maybe it wasn’t. He could never be sure when an ail wasn’t imagined. He eyed the sleeping man’s pasty body over. He seemed healthy aside from that fact that he was so thin. He was balding at his temples, and had empty gauges in his ears. His face was rat-like. Around him were scattered markers and paintbrushes. There was crude writing all over his body. Urooj was curious if the few prison chic tattoos this Jeremy had weren’t applied during a similar performance.
“This is disgusting,” laughed Urooj. “Crazy-ass kids.”
Jeremy continued to whisper softly among the murmur of the large crowd in the small community center. Sherry moved in closer to examine him, pulling out a medical flashlight. She gingerly pried open the man’s eyelids with her free hand.
“He’s probably drugged, but I think whether or not we take the art at face value is unimportant, we just have to check him. Then we can be out of here.”
The crowd watched in content confusion as Sherry examined the body. “Something about the way you say that somehow makes that phrase more creepy.” Sherry wasn’t sure if Urooj was actually creepy, but it was much easier for her to think of him that way.
She read each line written on Jeremy for some reassurance that their time and risk was of any value. She was not a cryptographer, not especially capable of recognizing certain patterns, but she was the most level-headed body in Omicron-Rho. She would never think too hard about anything, and given the territory, that was for the best.
Across pale folds of skin, in many hands, were written the following:
Jessica was here!
for a good time call Jenny
Too deep for me.
keep marfa wierd
the real shadow, Jemal Avery 2016
“Okay here’s something. ‘The real shadow”. I think that’s worth a shot.” Sherry shrugged, scrunching her nose at Urooj.
“Outstanding.” Urooj began to massage his temples. “Wait, did you bring the antipsychotics? If I had to guess I there aren’t pretty things going on inside this one’s head.”
“Of course I did. For you.”
“Eh. Okay.” He turned to the crowd and pulled out a badge, then turned back around to Sherry. “Are you sure? Really?”
“Yeah. Do the thing.”
“Sometimes I think you enjoy this.” Urooj winced and turned to address the crowd.
“We bring them a carcass, they give us a bone.”
Urooj shook his head. “Okay kids, show’s over, time to go home. Police business or whatever.”
With little complaint, people began to trickle out of the building and onto the dusty desert street.
Urooj turned off the lights while Sherry dragged Jeremy’s body into a storage closet in the basement. She looked down in the dark at the man with grim expectation. She pointed her pen-light at his face, her gaze fixed on his apathetically. It seemed as if his eyes would open at any moment and make a start at her.
“I hope there is a hell for us,” Urooj said absently as he dead bolted the door from the inside. “You know this kind of thing isn’t right. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.”
Sherry gave Urooj a look, shaking her head. She produced a needle from her pack, then found a fat vein on the man’s arm. The fountain in the canister was a flushed pink for a moment, and the sedative was deployed into his bloodstream.
Sherry sat in the corner of the room and nodded toward Jeremy.
Urooj swiveled his neck.
Deathbell heard a shrill, satisfied laugh upon entering Jeremy’s subconscious. Deathbell roared back, poisonous seeds escaping from his hybrid lungs. The feeling when descending into Jeremy was catastrophic.
“You fools! You’ve fallen right into my trap!” The mysterious voice squealed with delight. “I shall now add you to my collection!”
“Jeremy? That you?” Deathbell asked. He looked around him, and the fleshy globe of the room began to materialize. The walls were covered in many curved canvases depicting an eclectic array of figures: plants, animals, cryptids, colored shapes, and some things that could only be described as noise. They all appeared to be twisted in pain, distress - even the nonsense.
“Welcome to my gallery of Shadows!” The disembodied thing cackled. “I do hope you have time to spend!”
“Umm, okay, guy, are you Jeremy? I’ve actually seen this kind of thing before, so, can we just…?” Deathbell whipped his vines all around the room, hoping maybe to find an invisible figure.
“What? Surely you haven’t. A work of this kind…” It faltered, seeming to trail away.
Deathbell began to massage his temples, and the leafy tips of his bulbs began to glisten, exuding a purple mist. It carpeted the room, and slowly crept up the walls.
“A work of this kind is unique… It is unique by the very fact that it exists inside of a human mind!” It screamed.
Deathbell was too busy concentrating to correct him. Soon the entire room was filled with the toxic mist, and walls began to burn and hiss. The frames of the painting began to corrode, and Deathbell was overwhelmed with the toxic smell of burning paint. The smoke was beginning to fill his lungs, and he began to tingle from the inside. He knew that in time this would turn into a sharp burning, and he would not be able to concentrate on disconnecting from Jeremy. He had to leave.
“What is that accent of yours, fella?” The voice asked earnestly.
Deathbell closed his eyes, and disappeared.
Sherry slapped Urooj hard in the face, and quickly retreated outside. It was a necessary precaution, especially given how long it took Urooj to finish, and his habit of stabbing researchers with writing implements upon waking.
“Relax,” Urooj groaned. “It wasn’t crazy in there. I’m not gonna have an episode. It’s fine,” He said calmly, and then suddenly, “I’m fucking fine!”
Urooj let a guttural noise loose through his clenched teeth, and repeatedly banged his head on an aluminum locker. Not hard enough to cause any damage, but just enough pain to focus on.
“So what’s up? Do you need pills?” Sherry paused and looked to the door with a tired look in her eye. “Are you lying to me right now? Yeah?”
“Listen… You shit.” Urooj bit his knuckle, drawing blood. “It’s the artist, I think he’s living in there.” He pointed at Jeremy, so as to show her through the wall. "I couldn’t find Jeremy. I think he killed everyone who got in range of Jeremy. Why… why is this even important?” He hissed.
“But they all walked out…?” she said, some annoyance in her voice.
“You know what I mean. The gallery visitors are zombies now. I killed their shadows. Paintings. You know, like in the stupid book we had to read. P-Zombies.”
“Ah. Right. So what do you recommend?” Sherry said, slowly opening the door.
“It’s not a threat.” Urooj swiveled out of the room and banged his fist on the wall repeatedly. “According to Cicada we don’t have to do anything, but I think this Jeremy should be put out of his misery if we can’t find him.”
Sherry nodded. “I’ll go too this time…” She punched Urooj hard in the shoulder. “Urooj.”
Urooj shook his head and turned around to look at her.
“Let’s not kill each other when we come to, kay?”
Sci-Fi descended from between the folds of flesh, entering the gallery with Deathbell notably absent. The tight, rubbery walls forced them out through a series of claustrophobic channels.
“See, I just manifest in the middle of the room, I didn’t do the whole squeezing through the meat thing. What the fuck is wrong with you lady?” Deathbell said from somewhere in the flesh.
“Focus…” said Sci-Fi, descending slowly and quietly through the maze with her foot thrusters.
They wormed through the mass for what might have been minutes or hours, and, finally, Sci-Fi’s head emerged with a wet pop. A tall, skeletal figure with a long blonde mohawk sulked in the middle of the flesh globe. His protests echoed all around them. The paintings were all gone now, dissolved in black streaks all over the walls.
“Okay, do you guys even know how long this took to do? This was for my fucking residency!” The figure shrieked, grasping its thin head. It began to dance around in a fit, its movements were cartoonish.
“Is Jeremy still alive? Can he wake up?” said Sci-FI. She aimed her palm in the man’s direction.
“Okay, what are you the dream police?”
Deathbell finally emerged from the ceiling, floating down in an undignified seesaw motion.
“I guess so. Where’s your body, Jemal? You’re nowhere to be found topside.”
The tall man ground his teeth, producing a noise like a freight train coming to a stop. He began to grow in size until he could just place his boney palms and the bottoms of his feet all around the globe. “I have no body! There is no ‘Jeremy’!”
Deathbell looked up at the man without amusement. “Okay, explain now.” He looked at the digital clock on Sci-Fi’s back impatiently.
“I am Oneiroi, I left my body long ago. Jeremy is my creation. He has no body… He is not human. He is not Oneiroi. He is biofact!”
“Okay, you found a homeless guy and overpowered his psyche. Congratulations, really hard to do.”
Jemal began running in place, causing the globe to turn like a giant hamster ball. The sounds of tendons ripping and fleshy balloons popping echoed behind the membrane wall. Sci-Fi engaged her foot thrusters and floated in place while Deathbell tumbled around lazily.
“Fools!” He screamed.
A giant metallic banging suddenly shook the arena, causing Jemal to fall on his rear and begin cartwheeling along the spinning meat globe. His sharp hands impaled the walls, causing him to be stuck in place.
Police, open up.
“Oh shit, Urooj, we gotta get outta here.” Sci-Fi gasped.
“What have you idiots done? You called the cops? Dude!”
Deathbell stammered. “Hey, is this Jeremy you found a homeless guy? Is that it? Did you just travel to his mind and inhabit it? Overpower his subconscious somehow? Help us help you. We can get you out of this situation. We just gotta know how you did it.”
This is the last time I’m gonna ask. This is Marfa Sherrif. I get off work in one hour.
“I am not Jemal! I am Skeletal Banana Ham, and Jeremy was created with my ten skeleton fingers!”
“He is an artifact.”
“He alive?” Deathbell asked.
Alright, clear away from the door. Tried to be polite.
The room began to rattle, the reality around them began to dissolve.
“Fuck, it’s too late. We gotta get out! He’s waking up! Get the fuck out!”
The sheriff arrived at the hospital in critical condition. He had been severely beaten by two druggies in the basement of the community center. That’s what the newspaper said, and for once the disinformation was mostly true. They left out Jeremy, and the bits about Sherry attempting to restrain a 240 sack of psychotic rage while in a state of stupor.
Jeremy was a new man, in the truest sense. Skeletal Banana Ham was his preferred name, Ham for short. He would later be transferred to a very large room full of bodies. While he was sleeping he would be coated in a telekill shield, but for the majority of his life he would be wide awake.
Sherry sat in a sterile room with Ham as Ham piloted Jeremy’s body. Urooj was off in the White Room stabilizing, and afterward he was likely to get the most severe ass-kicking of his life. Luckily, he’d forget the whole thing by tomorrow.
Sherry put her finger to her temple while the man behind the glass interviewed them.
“I will say nothing! Nothing of my purpose or my sinister plans!” said Ham. His excitement never seemed to end.
“I believe the body is a reality construct, somehow this Oneiroi was capable of materializing a human body. I’ve never seen this before. That’s just a hunch though. I could be wrong. You guys could have already run a DNA test on it and it might just be a homeless guy. You don’t tell me anything, so I don’t know. Anything else Mr. Glass?”
“No,” said the doctor warmly. “I know you went through a lot of trouble with this one. You’ll be commended.”
“Wow thanks.” Sherry spoke under her breath.
“Ah! The enigmatic SCP Foundation! So that is where I have been taken!” roared Ham, struggling against his restraints. “I will share this information with my brothers and there is no way you can stop me!”
“Actually,” said the doctor, adjusting his glasses. “I’m interested in these Oneiroi. Are they all like this? Characters?”
“Not that I’ve seen. They’re like people, I guess. They just tend to lean in different extremes. This guy is a cartoon. That’s just what he is, or… Maybe that’s how he wants to be. Maybe he just can’t help it, you know?”
Ham looked at Sherry with some confusion. Glass smiled at him from behind the mirror.