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THE MURDERS

Dreamed 1971/7/14 by Chris Wayan

THAT YEAR

My sister Miriel and I used to do Rhine tests with checkers. One of us grabbed a piece blind and guessed its color; the other wrote down the scores in runs of ten. My consistent average of 60-70% shook my scientific skepticism about clairvoyance but I was unsure of my knowledge of statistics then--I was unsure that hundreds of tries were enough to mean anything. Miriel's consistent 80-90% was what changed me. It was too clear.

I felt intensely ashamed, for in my scientific value system I was converting to superstitious heresy. But I couldn't deny the data. I minimized it a while by looking only at the overall percentages, and ignoring my intermittent but distinct experience of sensing the color. Without Miriel's undeniable results I would not have had the corroboration I needed to be able to notice (secretly) that subtle experience, and connect it with correct guesses--and with a certain attitude I couldn't describe then.

I had to stop denying the obvious one day when I started doubting myself while actually doing a run--ascribing my successes to dumb luck, accusing myself of unconscious cheating, even speculating I decoded the dye chemicals inside the smooth plastic pieces entirely by feel (no small trick in itself, but it SOUNDED more scientific). I got a random score on that run. I got angrier. On the next I got below random (rare for me, and insulting). And got disgusted and didn't even try to feel the colors. I got five wrong in a row. I felt such frustration and selfhate. Six wrong. And I had to face the connection at last. Both success and failure at this game enraged parts of me: my overall score was the smoothed-out average of a violent tug of war. I really do see without my eyes, AND I really sabotage it well. Suddenly I am identifying with the sabotage, the anger, and I feel a dark exultation as I guess the next one wrong and know I am going to have a perfect score. And I do. Wrong, wrong, wrong, perfectly wrong, a thousand to one odds, and laughing silently all the way. At last, no doubt.

Oh, I soon denied it again, but now the double awareness was there.

THAT SUMMER Naked softball player with her team-mate, a talking snake, popping out of her. Dream sketch by Wayan.

In July 1971, my family camped in Yosemite Valley for a week, then drove over Tioga Pass and through the desert to Lake Tahoe. My aunt and uncle had rented a cabin and invited us to share it. We swam and rode the Truckee River on air mattresses every day. I was sixteen. I was acutely aware of every girl on the beach--as I had been for years--but I never talked to anyone. I had started to keep a journal--but only of events, never my feelings. And I wrote in tiny, secretive abbreviations even I can't always decode. Painful reading now--my life's pattern was solidifying, one I still can't break: to watch, listen, empathize, mutely long for others, but stay invisible. I'll force myself to show you a sample.

Two days before the murders is one of my first recorded dreams--and, not coincidentally, nearly the first dream I recall since childhood. "Soaked HO rr crly naga bsblg." As it happens, I can decode that--it was a funny sexy dream, Baseball Naga. I dared to record that dream, at least in code; but the night of the murders is blank. I couldn't write that dream down, not in any form, for a decade. But then I didn't need to--I couldn't forget it.

THE MURDERS

I'm at a crowded summer fair in a park here in Tahoe. A commotion stirs the crowd just southeast of me. People start screaming. A man in the crowd has gone berserk. He has an axe. He's chopping people. He's right by me now. I see him cut a man in two... and inside, the man is dull purple tissue, no blood--like a sausage inside a human shaped skin. The color of liverwurst. I touch it. I'm filled with dread. The madman runs off laughing and growling and disappears. The crowd slowly calms as the ambulances arrive.

"Everything's under control!" says the Mayor, climbing the podium prematurely. His speech wasn't supposed to be till after lunch. He tries to soothe them. He drips feeling for the victims, and emphasizes the senselessness--"that such a thing should happen in OUR community." Meaning small towns like this are virtuous; mass murder is supposed to be confined to cities. Then he recalls most of us are tourists--city folks--and reverses his tack, piously adding "It just goes to show us we all must watch ourselves--madness, like murder, can strike anyone. We are all kin of that poor man..." and he pauses to pour a big glass of water. It's hot, he's fat, he's nervous and sweating a lot. He fidgets with the microphone--and then spills the water. Sparks blaze white on the podium and he cries a deafening amplified scream and he's clenching the mike, he wants to let go and he can't, he's electrocuting in front of us, with white burning hands. I clap my hands on my ears but it's like needles in my eardrums. His dying shriek stretches out into a feedback loop, on and on, and I wake to sudden dead silence in the cabin. The dread and a sense of fate, of unavoidable death, won't fade.

I've had nightmares, but never a dream like that.

THAT MORNING

I get up and go into the kitchen. My parents are cooking. My father looks unusually serious. He says:

"I had the worst nightmare in my life last night. I was in the Sierra, in a camp, outside the door of a cabin or tent. I had an axe. People were trapped inside. When someone came out, I hacked him to death. I remember everything. I killed them all. God, it was horrible. It really makes me wonder, that I have that inside. I guess we all have it, under the civilized surface; we have to control it..." and I recognize the Mayor's speech. My heart drums fast.

My mother looks strange and tense. She listened, said nothing as he told his dream. Neither did I, but I was unaware of that, since I never told anyone anything (it never occurred to me I could). My mother, who rarely remembers her dreams, never tells them, and thinks people are meant to forget them, says in a weird strained voice:

"I, too, dreamed of... murder."

Nobody talks like that. But she did then, and beyond her unprecedented admission that she'd dreamed at all, that stilted phrasing meant whatever she'd dreamed had violently upset her.

I still said nothing. Though I didn't write it down, the strain of their dreams fixed mine in my mind all morning. Then my uncle came in. He'd gone to the store and picked up a paper. A huge headline darkened the front page. "What happened?" I asked. He flipped it over. It said:

CAMPGROUND KILLER!

In a camp below us in the Sierra foothills, a man with an axe had walked into tents and hacked up the occupants, laughing. One survivor said the man said "Hi there!" and then... started slashing. Two or three known dead. He left the camp on foot and was at large, somewhere near us, armed. Placer County, Tahoe and all the Gold Country was in a panic, locals digging out their guns.

I was terrified. All day, by the Truckee River, I stayed near the radio, listening to bulletins and watching the opposite ridge--miles of forest beyond, with him in it. I'd see a man hiking down the slope... Which I didn't. My parents didn't worry--they didn't read the paper. Not on vacation!

I never heard that they caught him, either.

Four sleepers dream of a mad ax murderer the same night.
TEN YEARS LATER

I was finally able to tell my folks real things. I mentioned the day of the murders as the time when I accepted the importance of dreams in my life--and the time when I diverged from my father's philosophy. He's a devout scientist, believing we can only trust the rational conscious, for we're violent savages beneath: madmen in straitjackets! His little breakfast speech, precognitively parodied by the Mayor in my dream, first claimed the killer's madness and crimes for his own, and then generalized his slander of his inner self to include all of us, too! He took on another man's madness and evil--an evil that, far from being common, was so grotesque it got headlines and galvanized half a state.

So I finally told that dream to my folks--what it meant to me, and that I regretted not sharing it with them that day, when it might have changed their interpretations of their own dreams. One nightmare is personal; two could be coincidence; THREE parallel nightmares are simply not personal any more.

Neither one of them remembered such dreams, such murders, such a day at all.

That shook me. I wrote my dream out briefly, wondering if I'd imagined or exaggerated the events around it. (I still had no doubts about the dream).

One of the books I'd been reading at the library argued that psychic phenomena are only psychosocial artifacts; for example, at the turn of the century a judge received a message from a man in a dream or vision at the moment the man was dying miles away. The judge was prestigious, cautious, thorough in his description; the case became famous, classic. Decades later, a skeptic went back and dug up the coroner's report on the moment of death, the date of the incident, the judge's notes of the dream, the details of the setting; and they were all wrong. The judge himself had to admit it. A trained master at objective evaluation of ambiguous facts, he had still edited his memory to fit what he (or his audience) wanted to believe.

So I looked back through my own notebooks, and found only two dates the dream could have happened on--two days when we spent all day on the banks of the Truckee after a day at the Lake. I worked a hundred feet from the microfilm newspaper collection of the Stanford Libraries, but it took me two years to get the nerve up to request the reels of the San Francisco Chronicle for those dates.

TWO YEARS LATER

I finally did it. The first date had Nixon, the war, dope busts, the FBI, slurs about 'peaceniks' and 'draft dodgers' and 'subversives' that amazed me--I had forgotten how credulously Cold War the media were, even that late. No murder. I jumped to the more likely date, two days after my first dream record.

The headlines screamed

"CAMPGROUND HUNT FOR SICKLE KILLER"

It was all there. Mass murder at a place called Dog Bar, in the Sierra foothills near the Placer-Nevada County line. "He came in and said 'Hi there' and started chopping" said a survivor. "He was laughing and growling like an animal."

And I felt it again, the dark exultation that I felt when I made my run of ten, that reporters feel when they unearth something ugly, ugly but true, and I felt guilty at my delight that the murders were real, selfish that I cared more for the proof we'd all picked up echoes from a mad killer than I care about the innocents hacked to death.

But then that's been my pattern; I am a camera on the beach, seeing the others from outside, not as one of them--one of you.

AFTERWORD: 1997

I recently learned my sister Miriel recalled that day too. She says "You DID tell your dream, at least to me. And Althea also said she dreamed of murder. I was the ONLY one who didn't remember my dreams that night. I felt left out and stupid when the paper came and we saw the headlines. All FOUR of you had clairvoyant dreams about the ax murders over the hill, and I didn't--or I did and FORGOT." Good old Miriel, the token non-esper in the family. Only 80-90% right with the checkers, you know.

Our sister Althea says, much like our parents, "Well, I could have dreamed that, but I don't remember a thing."

While Miriel's memory confirms the general outline of my own recollection, it shows one very revealing detail was flawed: I thought I didn't dare speak up. This is as characteristic as Althea or my parents denying their dreams: I typically blame myself if no one notices or recalls what I say--I should have been louder, nicer, taller... something. It only counted if they listened--and they didn't, so I hadn't 'really' spoken up. Discounted it right out of my memory, just as I left it out of my journal.

But it's still there, and still real. And, I can now say with moderate confidence, it's either common as dirt or it runs in families. Both parents and two out of three kids? Of course, mass murder's a pretty strong broadcast. But I'm losing patience with stonewalling, whether it's in my family or in my community.

Let me spell out why I wrote this: it's bad enough to be called sloppy, unqualified, a fraud, superstitious, stupid. If I hear that word 'anecdotal' again I'm going to grab an ax myself. But prejudice and denial aren't the real pain of being psychic in a hostile society. Look--have ANY of you comfortable rationalists who are lucky enough not to pick up other people's most violent passions, ever considered what we stupid, credulous frauds have to endure, growing up experiencing things like this, however you explain them? How it shapes families, when the dirty little secret denied by the parents and coped with (if at all) by the kids is not alcoholism or incest but THIS? Physical rape can be devastating--but my thoughts and dreams have been raped--silently--all my life. Boundaries? What the hell are those? Unless it makes the news or my friends or relatives tell me what's up, I don't even KNOW if my dreams are my own--or someone else's crisis. Time and again I interpret a dream psychologically, only to find out it just happened--in my housemate's dream, in my sister's life a hundred miles away... or on the White House lawn.

Axe murderer looking rather sad.



LISTS AND LINKS: earliest recorded dreams - psychic dreams - telepathic dreaming - violent dreams - nightmares - Tahoe dreams - Baseball Naga - Miriel - Althea - Jerry, my dad - inheritances - living with ESP - I wasn't kidding about the White House lawn: Two Planes - another century, dreamer, family, murderer: The Axe of Death

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