rating: +68+x

Seesa 05/01/07 (Tue) 02:48:52 #479152


Devil's Garage

In 1965, Josie Laures and Antoine Senni — two French cave explorers — partook in an experiment that would test the effects of extreme isolation on the brain. The subjects would attempt to outlast each other, stationed in separate caves and deprived of human contact for months. Total isolation, complete darkness, and nothing to occupy themselves beyond the capabilities of their own minds. Laures emerged after 88 days in her cave, while Senni lasted 126. The results of the experiment were reported in vague and almost mundane fashion, amounting to little more than a lost sense of time and temporary color blindness in both subjects. As such, Laures and Senni faded into obscurity, their ordeal's legacy being a string of clickbait articles on pop-science websites, and a few casual citations in mid-60s research papers. It never sat right with me. How could an experiment that pushed the brain to its limits, that forewent our inherently social nature, and tested extended isolation in an unprecedented way be swept under the rug so easily? Were the results just that inconsequential, or was there something more to the story? Something horrifying, wading beneath the surface of every mind, warded off only through the fulfillment of the regularities of life — of color, of conversation, of the presence of another being. To deprive onself is to lure the starving beast from its den. To face it is certain death, and make no mistake, in a contest between ones wits and ones mind — you will be consumed.

My grandfather was involved in the Laures/Senni experiment. He kept a log of Senni's dietary habits. I was 7 when he first told me about the study. It stuck with me, interloping my two biggest fears at the time — the dark, and caves. The first of which sprung from an incident involving a neglectful teacher tasking me with retrieving a paint bucket from the storage loft of my middle school. I was trapped there for 3 hours, surrounded by boxes of theater props and spare textbooks. My fear of caves originated in my own backyard, when I would explore the woods behind my house. There was a particular hole, located near a rock formation a mile out, we used to call Devil's Garage. Yes, Devil's Garage is a terribly un-scary name, but to someone who couldn't sleep without a nightlight, it worked well enough. To think someone would willingly put themselves in a situation that was the epitome of my fears like Laures and Senni did was insanity to me. I think it also inspired me, made me more daring. If someone could last months in a cave all alone, what did I have to fear? I started exploring the tunnel system found in the woods, quite recklessly too. Eventually, I had a significant portion of Devil's Garage mapped out entirely in my head. It wasn't until I was 19 when I became involved in the local caving community, and I realized how many times I could've gotten myself killed down there. For fun, I would turn my headlamp off, and try to find my way around the cavern, armed only with a walkie-talkie, with my exploration team on the other line. I was enamored with the dark, with being surrounded by the earth. I couldn't get Laures and Senni out of my head, knowing that I could do exactly what they did — and I planned on doing it.

My occupation was relatively versatile, meaning I could spend an entire month in a cave and not have it affect my wallet significantly. I talked to my friend Rob, who had been caving with me for the better part of the decade, about my plans. I told him I needed someone to keep an eye on things while I was down there, and surprisingly, he agreed to it — under the pretense that I would cover his pay for the month he would have to spend away from work. When it came to location, I had to pick somewhere off the map. Even the 'undocumented' cave systems in the area were routinely explored, and I didn't want to scare an unsuspecting caver stumbling upon my isolation den. I knew the perfect place, completely uncharted and away from public eye, but still suited to my needs — Devil's Garage. No one explored, let alone knew about Devil's Garage, sans the neighborhood kids, of course. It's a dangerous cave system located in an obscure, Pennsylvanian town with a population of about 500. I doubt it would be a popular caving spot even if it weren't unknown. Devil's Garage also offered me a sense of closure for my strange relationship with childhood fears. This was full circle, the culmination of everything that led me to this point, coming together in the same place it began.

Two backpacks full of non-perishable foods, five cases of waters, 24 portable waste bags, and a walkie-talkie to Rob with fresh batteries. I had a spot picked out not far from the entrance, and not deep enough where moving my supplies down would be an issue. Devil's Garage is a small descent that opens up into a spacious foyer, before twisting into a tight-ish squeeze that reaches into the cave's dark zone, an area unable to be penetrated by surface light. Just beyond that tunnel is a cavern, big enough for my experiment, and my new home for the next month. Rob helped me move everything down, and wished me luck. He reminded me that he'd be staying in a camper near the tree line, and that if I needed him, to use the walkie-talkie. I gave him a trademark 'all good', and shut my headlamp off. Rob left, his silhouette being the last, fleeting connection to the outside world I would have for the indefinite future. I held on to that image for as long as I could.

The mind is a malleable, impressionable thing. I was surprisingly able to keep myself alert and conscious for an extended period of time, not long after Rob left. My thoughts chained together, thinking about eating breakfast with Rob that morning, to my first professional caving expedition, to Devil's Garage itself. I remembered the stories, typical local legend fare passed around between children, of cults conglomerating in the forest and wild men occupying the tunnels. None rooted in any sort of truth, obviously. I remembered how this place used to scare me, unnerve me. I remembered the uneasy aura I got when exploring the tunnels for the first time. I remembered how that feeling never went away. I remembered the silence. I stopped remembering. Black. Damp. Cold. Breathing. Dread. The initial calm had been swept away, and only the permanence of my situation remained. I was alone.

Seesa 05/01/07 (Tue) 03:14:31 #479166


A prisoner's cinema is a hallucinatory phenomenon involving colored, flashing lights, appearing to those deprived of light for extended periods of time. I was fully prepared to hallucinate, or at least I thought. I'm not sure how long it took, as my sense of time was slipping, but I never got used to them. Things started happening after I fell asleep for the first time, whenever that was. Shadows visible in the darkness, whispers, white noise among the silence, they didn't bother me at first. I knew what they were. This transitioned into the light shows, bits of reds, purples, greens, all blinking in and out of reality. You know those brief bits of color you see when you close your eyes? Imagine those, but way brighter. They soothed me, continuously lulling me in and out of sleep. I watched the dancing colors, the way they swirled and faded. I felt myself slipping, getting lost in the constant, vivid displays of color. The reds melted into the blues, and the yellows flew across the greens, swirling and molding themselves around the purple outlines that took shape. I saw shapes, and I was calm. I would dream, and the colors were still there. I gave in completely, shutting everything around me down. The shapes turned into figures — bright, white, illuminating figures. They whispered to me, and I was nourished.

How long had I been down there? I didn't know, and didn't care. I passed in and out of consciousness, never moving, and always fixated on the lights. I didn't eat, drink, or use the bathroom once. They gave me everything I needed. The white figures became brighter, and a single voice spoke to me with the magnitude of a thousand. One voice. Beckoning me closer. I remember what happened with total clarity and acuteness. I left my body. I was myself, and the light was separate of me. We were not the same. A single mass of light. I touched it. Only black now. I faded.

I saw warm light that stretched on in every direction, but I didn't wince. Like a painting. A structure in the center of my field of vision, infinitely tall. I knew to go toward it, but I couldn't walk. I focused, and I was at its base. A modern tower, with distinct components. Hundreds of windows, hundreds of protruding rooms. Sharp. Commanding. Calming. I focused into a room. Gray everything. No lights, but perfectly lit. Completely empty. I knew I was alone. There were others here, but they were not me. For hours, I explored the building. I moved through countless featureless rooms. Vacancy without unease. I could spend an eternity in union with this structure. I came to a staircase, and I ascended.

I came to a room, a hallway without end. I walked, and felt the presence of the colors, of every color. No sound. Just color. The hallway opened up into a spacious balcony, exposing the horizon. Massive, circular structures in the sky, turning and spinning. Like giant, golden rings, turned on their side. I felt so many emotions at once, it was overwhelming. The white figures reappeared, hundreds of them. Small components of a larger machine, working in tandem. I understood now. They ran into each other, colliding into a single, glowing mass. I knew to look away. I looked down, and I wanted to cry. I knew what I was in the presence of. I was told to think, and I couldn't. I was called forward, and the mass touched me. I saw patterns folding into each other, snapshots of the history of unfamiliar peoples, strange structures in dream-like landscapes, the sun, the universe's expansion, the intricacies of the smallest quark, the invisible functions of time, and the feeling of life's creation. For a brief moment, I was in union with this being. It was too much. The mass touched me again, and I felt relieved. The line between us was not meant to be breached.

I was touched again, this time by a new part of the mass. I saw a billion lifetimes all intertwining and connecting, a man toiling in the fields for his king, a woman brandishing a blade to defend her state, a joyful tribe partaking in a coming-of-age ceremony, my dead mother's embrace, an isolated theologian writing scripture, and a scared little boy in the dark. I felt every moment of happiness and every feeling of pain ever experienced, one after another. I lived them. In seconds, I lived them all. I was incomprehensibly whole.

The mass outstretched itself once more, and I was given a choice. I could either approach the mass, with its wealth of secret knowledge and unspeakable understanding, or I could accept my existence and kneel. I knew my purpose was to kneel, to experience reality and every sensation it brings. An act of creation is inherently separate from its creator. Acceptance of my mortality was to be my theosis. I thought about what I saw, what I experienced ― and I didn't listen.

I walked towards the mass. I couldn't forget what I saw ― what I now knew. I entered the mass, preparing myself for union. It overtook me. I was completely consumed by its presence, of overwhelming visuals, forbidden words, and new sensations. I was spat out, and the mass disappeared. The structure around me crumbled, and the sky turned black. Every cloud and color was slowly drained from my surroundings, until it was a colorless void. I gazed into a featureless void, and I faded back into perceptible reality.

Seesa 05/01/07 (Tue) 03:32:88 #479189

Suddenly, I was alert again. I was a man, alone in a cave, and I was very, very afraid. I felt a presence that I hadn't felt before, like I was being watched. Something was with me. I scrambled for my walkie-talkie and told Rob to get me as soon as possible. I reached for my headlamp, but I couldn't bring myself to turn it on, in fear of what I'd see. I sat, completely motionless, and utterly vulnerable for what felt like hours. Rob's initial greeting startled me, and he put a pair of goggles over my head to protect my dark-attuned eyes. He guided me out of the cavern, assuring me that he would go back and move my stuff out once I was brought to the surface. Turns out, I made it a total of exactly 7 days. I wanted to explain to Rob what I saw, and why I called him to come get me, but I couldn't even process it myself. When we crawled out of the entrance to Devil's Garage, I couldn't see anything. I knew my eyes would have to take time to adjust to light again, but it was complete darkness — like I never had left. I sat on the step of Rob's camper while he retrieved my belongings, waiting for my vision to return. Once we were all settled, Rob brought me back to my house, where he offered to stay with me, giving well-deserved company after what I had gone through.

Curiously, I didn't use any of my supplies during the week. Even back at home, I wasn't hungry or thirsty. Even though Rob told me I looked fine and that my weight didn't change, he wasn't convinced, so he decided to cook for me. I noticed Rob kept pressing questions about how I occupied myself. Eventually, he told me that the walkie-talkie gave off nothing but white noise about 3 days in, and stopped an hour before I called him down. I told him I'd explain myself when I collected my thoughts, and that I wanted to focus on interaction instead. We ate, talked, and played music. Any sort of noise was the perfect distraction to take my mind off of things, ignoring the fact that I still couldn't see anything. By the end of the night, my vision still hadn't returned, and I began to fear for the worst. I had Rob bring me to the emergency room, where I was told to wait out another day, and to come back if I still couldn't see. I stayed up the entire night, and Rob stayed up with me. I couldn't sleep, and I was afraid to be alone. If it wasn't for the talking and music, I would have felt like I was still in the cave.

A day came and went, and my vision still hadn't returned. A day turned into three days, and then a week. I began to tell Rob about what happened down there. It's still hard to verbalize certain aspects, but I think I have most of it down. In fact, Rob's typing this out for me, as I believe it's a story Parawatch needs to hear. Rob…doesn't know what to make out of it, pinning things on a combination of hallucinations and dreams, possibly with the influence of increased exposure to a gas emission from the cave, which isn't unheard of. Being the avid Parawatch user I am, I'm not so convinced. I've heard of DMT trips and similar phenomena resulting in visuals and feelings akin to what I felt, but that doesn't explain why I feel shame. I should've knelt, Parawatch.

I thought back to Laures and Senni. Is this what happened to them? Were the results of the experiment covered up? I needed answers. Rob and I visited my grandfather, and I told him my story. By the time I finished, not a drop of color was left in his face. He told me that both Laures and Senni experienced a form of sensory loss following their experiences. Laures suffered anosmia, and Senni a complete hearing loss. As the researchers struggled to figure out why, the funding for the experiment was pulled, and the entire team was laid off. Apparently, a new team came in, and everyone was left in the dark until the banal conclusions started showing up in research papers a few years later — without any mention of the sensory loss, of course. Rumors began circulating among the old research team, about Laures and Senni eventually going comatose. My grandfather never believed them.

Whenever I'm alone anymore, even when Rob leaves for a minute, I feel guilty, like something's staring at me, and it won't look away. It's only getting worse, and quite frankly, I'm more scared than ever.

Why? Because ever since I woke up this morning, I've lost all feeling in my hands.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License