lily osler

nightmares i've had recently

September 4, 2021

In the near future, Amazon has begun to market a purported AI-brain interface. After an implantation procedure, the sales pitch goes, you will be blessed with perfect recall of your past, access to the Internet simply by thinking, increased intelligence, and, most importantly, the ability to alter your own mind as you see fit (with a backup to be restored at any moment if need be). By the time this dream begins, about half of Americans have received this procedure; it was initially unpopular, but adoption grew exponentially after public figures began to have their minds fitted with it.

In this dream, I learn two things: first, that the procedure is not what it is sold as. Your mind is not augmented; it is simply replaced with an artificial brain molded to your original brain's neural net. Your old brain is incinerated. This is discovered when droves of people who had undergone the procedure, perhaps up to 20 percent, sought medical help for intense mental health declines brought on by the revelation that they were not the person in their memories, that they were not really a person at all, just blank consciosuness molded into the shape of one. Many try to alter their minds using the AI interface to make themselves comfortable with this revelation, but that is its own kind of torment because you can never eradicate the second-level horror at making yourself comfortable with the uncanny, or the third-order discomfort at eliminating that anxiety, and so on.

Second, there is a serial killer in my city who is specifically seeking out and murdering people who underwent the procedure; there are subtle tells in personality and affect that she looks for, and she has never been wrong, and dozens have already died. My cousin, who underwent the procedure to try and fix a lifetime of depression and anxiety, hides out in my house during the wave of killings, and left alone with him for so many days, I am forced to confront this person who looks and talks like someone I knew and loved but is not him.

August 6, 2021

I am in the woods with my friends. It is the high summer. We are somewhere not too far from the city, surrounded by deciduous trees, the sky even still glowing a bit from the lights of town. It is night, and we are sitting in our tent, telling ghost stories.

"What's this?" one of my friends asks. She gestures to a portable TV, a cathode ray set from the mid-eighties, its case yellowed with age. We all look on it with bemusement. None of us brought it.

We turn on the TV. Without having to scan for channels, it snaps immediately to a shot of a campfire in a small clearing in woods far away from our own, somewhere in the north, white pine and lichen on rocks. It is twilight, but I get the strange sense that in this place it has been twilight for a very long time. There is a low hum in the background. The camera slowly zooms into the campfire, around which we can see no signs of human habitation. There is a song in a language none of us can place. The song grows more intense the closer we get, and only once we enter the clearing itself do we realize that the radius of the fire is cast in a slight shadow from some enormous thing hovering above it. The camera pans up and the dream ends.

May 15, 2021

I am at a party sometime in the early summer, talking to some of my friends in a corner. One of my friends points to a cluster of girls standing near the windows, looks of profound ennui on their faces, standing silently. "Did you know they're trans?" my friend asks. I shake my head; as a sad corollary of the way my dysphoria makes me hyperscrutinize my own body, I've gotten pretty good at guessing who's trans and who's cis even when cis people would have no idea, but I would never have guessed that these girls were anything but cis.

My friend explains that these girls had recently gotten an experimental combination surgical procedure that a hospital far away, in the southwestern desert, had just begun to offer. The procedure combines facial feminization surgery, vaginoplasty, breast augmentation, and vocal feminization surgery into a single session, along with a slew of cutting-edge skeletal surgeries to reduce the size of the shoulders, ribcage, hands, and feet and widen the pelvis. This hospital, it is rumored, also implants an artificially-grown womb and ovaries made of your own stem cells to prevent transplant rejection; this partiuclar procedure is not yet legal and so is talked about in only hushed tones. These surgeries all happen concurrently over a period of about thirty-six hours of full anesthesia, with six or seven surgeons cutting your body open at once. As a result of the intense nature of these procedures, patients are put in a medically-induced coma and left to recover unconscious for two or three months; they wake up with their scars already fading, the pain already gone, in a body that feels more like their own than they could have ever imagined.

I mention to my friend that I'm envious, but that this must have been extremely expensive. "It is, but that's not the problem," my friend says. She explains that at least one of these girls had her surgery and recuperation, which ran to many hundreds of thousands of dollars, covered by insurance after a lengthy appeals process, and that the cost will likely come down significantly as more and more doctors are trained to make those who transitioned after a male puberty into, for all intents and purposes, cis women.

The problem, she says, is that people don't come back from these surgeries, not really. The intensity of the anesthesia, the length of the recuperative coma afterward, the sheer shock of waking up in a body so unlike the one you had when you went under: these all seem to work in concert to strip you of your personality, your selfhood. These girls wake up not knowing their own names and, more importantly, completely disinclined to learn them. They remember how to walk, to eat, to speak to strangers, but it's all without affect or persona. Left on their own, they spend all day staring at the wall. And sometimes they're brought to parties with their former friends to try and resocialize and they just wind up standing together, gazing at nothing, unmoving.

May 12, 2021

I am a teenager still living at home with my family. We have just thrown a huge blowout New Year's Eve party and are cleaning up the pieces. The party was not one I enjoyed attending; my parents had invited our extremely conservative relatives, who did not approve of my transition, and a few gross, misogynist family friends who saw me, a teenage girl, as just a sex object for their ogling.

My plan after the party is to go out with some friends to a post-midnight concert. It is a cold night, so I throw together a quick outfit: some warm leggings, a dress, a demin jacket. I look in the full-length mirror in my parents' bedroom and realize what I am seeing reflected was not what I put on: the mirror shows me a different dress, no jacket, and a face that is not mine. I begin to panic. My mother, who is downstairs cleaning up, calls to me: "Elizabeth, come give me a hand!" My name is not Elizabeth. This is not my body, my house. I wake up screaming.

May 8, 2021

I am at my family's cabin in northern Minnesota. It is a small wooden one on a rocky lake; there is no electricity and no running water and we are dozens of miles away from the nearest town. As usual, I spend the days reading books on the dock, going swimming, making elaborate dinners on the propane stove for my family.

One afternoon, my dad suggests we go to the Temple of Knowledge. I agree. In the dream, there has always been an island on the lake where you can find the Temple of Knowledge. I went there often as a child, in the dream. We get in our canoes and paddle for half an hour across the big lake, a storm drifting lazily by in the far distance.

The Temple of Knowledge is a large island on the lake entirely encased in a polyhedral glass shell. The glass acts as a greenhouse; inside, palm trees grow and tropical flowers bloom. We hitch our canoes to the dock and enter the glass shell. The Temple is not a single building; it is a large campus, not unlike a university's, of neat New England-seeming brick buildings built at odd angles. The Temple, being so remote, gets few visitors, but it is certainly the biggest tourist destination in the area. Nonetheless, we are the only people in it today save the all-female, red-cloaked apostles. I have only vague memories of visiting the Temple as a child, and they are universally pleasant, nothing remarkable. They come back to me as we wander about the alleyways between the bricks.

The longer we are on the island, the stronger my sense gets that there is something deeply wrong about the Temple, or at least different than I had remembered. I ask my father if the Temple is a cult, and he says it is; it was founded in the nineteenth century by a madman who thought this island was a thin place and recruited dozens of female apostles to come live here with him under his geodesic sky. He lived over a hundred years, and three days after he died his corpse returned to life but kept decaying; he issued pronouncements for decades, his rotting eyes burning with blue light. A few years ago, the apostles decided that, reanimated or not, he was no longer attuned to divine will, and one of their number took over his role as leader and tossed his corpse into the lake.

We wander around and read the plaques and signs and talk to people around us. The Temple, or the island it's on, has a habit of animating the dead or otherwise inanimate. The old leader was not the only person here to die and then return. There is an alleyway where, the apostles have it, if you leave a doll overnight, you will wake up to it stumbling around, alive, moaning sounds from its stitched-closed mouth.

We meet a woman who does not look like the other apostles. She is wearing a black hoodie and skinny jeans. She looks about my age. When we get to talking, she mentions that she too died here and was brought back to life. She had come to the Temple for a job, hired out of college as an editor for the sect's newsletter to the faithful in the outside world. When she had come there she had been a closeted trans woman, to outside appearances the first man to live full-time on the island since the leader's death. She had died under mysterious circumstances, and three days later had woken up in her current body, seemingly a cis woman.

I find myself wondering whether it would be possible for me to die on the island.

January 9, 2021

I live in a new ivy-covered home in a leafy suburb. Sara and I are middle-aged and married, and we have a son. He's about eight years old, and is thrilled to have his own bedroom. The neighbors are kind and accepting of the lesbians next door. Everything is at peace.

One day, we leave our son at home while we go to a little housewarming party for a neighbor. He's not a tiny kid, so we figure he'll be okay being left home alone for an hour. When we get back, he is sitting entirely still on his bed, looking into the middle distance. Unprompted, he tells us that while we were gone, his "other mommy" came into his room. We ask who his "other mommy" is, and he says she looks like me, "but different." His "other mommy" told him to take the long, sharp metal pick she was holding (a quarter-inch wide, about five inches long, razor-sharp on both ends) and to "use it" when she gave "the signal." He will not tell us anything more.

We are terrified. He keeps saying he is seeing "other mommy" in his room occasionally. I confront the neighbors, adults and teenagers, to see if any of them are playing a cruel joke on our son. I call the police, but they find no evidence of someone besides us entering our home. We buy new deadbolts for the doors and a fancy security system. Nothing works. Weeks pass.

Finally, I decide to install a security camera in the ceiling of our son's bedroom. The night I install it, at about 2 a.m., the footage shows his closet door springing open suddenly. A noise, staticky and high-pitched, like feedback, comes out of it. Our son rises from bed and walks into the closet. The door shuts behind him.

In the morning, he is not in the closet. He is nowhere else in the house. He is gone.