Saccadic masking

Of course, I’d like to tell everyone about what I saw, but then they’d all think I was crazy, maybe hallucinating.

It happened at one those retreats, where everyone gathered for a spiritual revival. Now, that night, the weather was blustery. Rain thrashed the ground outside, and it was so violent that the windows and doors all had to be shut.

Down in the canteen, there is this huge room where the spiritual sessions are usually held. After dinner, everyone had gone in, except for myself and the person overseeing the program. He was running around a lot, so it was just me sitting alone in the canteen. The place wouldn’t have felt so eerie had the lights not been dimmed. But those were the instructions. From outside, I could hear the chorus of the participants. There were roughly a hundred of them squeezed into the room. Through the windows, you could get a glimpse of what was happening inside. People were shifting about, raising their arms then swaying from side to side. Feeling restless, I started walking around the canteen, seeing if anything needed to be tidied or swept or cleaned or arranged. Then, I went into the kitchen, which was lit by bright fluorescent light, much like those kinds you have in the surgical room. There, I found a long trail of ants coming from a crack near the basin, and then leading out through the window. For a moment I wondered if they were not afraid of the thunderous downpour, and that they might be swept away so very quickly. After transporting a number of cups from the drying basket to the cupboard, I went out back to the canteen. Then, there was no longer any light coming from the room. The twin windows on the door were black. And what was stranger was that no noise was coming from the room. I got a little frightened, certainly, but then thought that maybe it was just an exercise in meditation, and calmed myself down. That was surely not out of the question. I walked slowly towards the door, and finally, came to where I was sitting before. Even from there, which lay about 3 tables away from the doors, I could not make out anything through the window. It was like a sort of insulated black. There was not the slightest glimmer of reflection. That wasn’t possible I thought, since the windows were made of glass. So I crept still closer to the room. At that point, the hair on my arms were all tingling, and fear was rising like a bile in my throat. 

What I saw next, as I peered through the window, was indescribable. In any case, it was very dark, and maybe I couldn’t really see properly. And maybe, people were right, we didn’t get much sleep the previous night, and so everything I saw could have been a distortion. But at the time, it could not have felt more real. What I saw when I tried to look in, what I could barely make out, were the silhouettes of heads; but they weren’t normal-looking. They were all shaped quite equally, everyone of them was this perfect, clean oval, like a sculpture that wasn’t given hair or ears or a nose, or a mouth. And they all kept so still..

That was the last piece of memory I can recall. All the rest is a haze. I found myself awake on one of those makeshift mattresses that they have for the participants. Someone told me that I had gone unconsciousness at the table, and that they were so worried for a moment. The first thing I asked them was that if the lights had been switched off during the session, or if there had been some meditation exercise. They all laughed and said no; in fact, the lights had been on throughout, because they didn’t want the participants dozing off.

I don’t know what really happened, whether I really did see those things which I saw. People say that emotions have a way of influencing memories, changing them. Maybe I am remembering wrongly after all. Maybe I really did fall asleep at the table and it was all a frightening dream, incited by the dark weather outside. But could I truly believe all that when it all had felt so dreadfully real, and every ounce of detail still throbbing with vividness.


So there we were, the three of us goons, standing in the middle of the hallway, waiting for the mops to be brought up. The crepuscular light had made it such that everything looked like a dream; the empty corridor, the row of dark rooms, the unsettling silence of the compound. Then one of us told a joke, and we all started to laugh. Eventually, I would stop laughing, while the two others continued. And they began to laugh more loudly and more maniacally. One of them tried to repeat the joke, but the latter half of it was consumed by laughter. Soon, it all became quite unsettling, and I told them to stop. They wouldn’t; they just kept on laughing, and laughing, and laughing. Then, there grew something sinister about it, the tone, the way it rang. It hardly sounded like jovial laughter anymore. It was as if something had taken a hold of them from inside. All of a sudden, the two of them looked at me, with a swirling in their eyes which I will never forget. It was as if the thing inside them were asking me: why aren’t you laughing?