01 Feb I’ve been hypnotizing neighborhood kids with psychedelics for the last 17 years
I met twelve-year-old Bradford only an hour ago.
Now his head is smashed in and he’s lying in a pool of blood in the middle of my basement floor.
The police will be here any minute to arrest me, no doubt.
They’ll gather testimony from the other three boys that were here tonight, then from the nearly one hundred other boys that have visited my basement over the past seventeen years.
Alright, writing that down makes me sound like a pervert, but I’m not a pervert. Let’s get that out there.
This is my final confession.
It all started in the year 2002. I had just graduated with a master’s in psychology and was working at Top Hat Video to pay the bills while pursuing research on Psychedelic Therapy on the side.
While exiting the local Cinemark after seeing M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs on opening night, I noticed a group of four boys gathered around the ticket booth, one of whom I recognized as a neighborhood kid, Jimmy McConkie. They had just learned that the 11:15 pm showing was sold out and were trying to figure out whose mom could pick them up.
Jimmy saw me and called out. “Hey Marcus! How’s it goin?”
“Jimmy, what’s goin on?”
“Signs is sold out,” he said, visibly disheartened.
“Damn, sorry man. I just saw it,” I said.
His face lit up and his friends gathered around. “Well, how was it?” he asked.
“It was horrifying,” I said. “So good.”
“Oh man, well, we’ll have to try tomorrow,” he said, turning to his friends.
They nodded in affirmation.
Then I started thinking.
My latest research had been on the use of psychedelics to treat early childhood trauma. In theory, the drugs would help access a higher plane of existence, which, with the guidance of a licensed professional, could be used to gain a deeper understanding of the trauma.
Of course, much of what I was studying back then is almost common knowledge in progressive psychiatric circles today. LSD, MDMA, and Psilocybin (as found in mushrooms) are used regularly in underground guided-therapy sessions nowadays, but back then, no way. In the 1960s or 70s? Sure. Early 2000s? No.
On a whim, I invited the boys over to my house. I told them I’d give them a preview of Signs without spoiling too much. Since the kids still didn’t have a ride home, they accepted my invitation. They packed into my Subaru Outback and I took them to my home. For all the talk about stranger danger, these twelve-year-olds were much too confident coming with me. Though, again, I had no ill intent. I never did, at any point.
It sounds so creepy writing it down like this, but a handful of willing kids was exactly what I needed to test my methods. If the combination of psychedelics and hypnosis could work for trauma, why not for fun?
I served the four of them Pepsi while I got the basement ready. I set up four chairs in the middle of my unfinished basement, turned on the surround-sound speakers, and got a bell from the storage room. I ground up tablets of MDMA and fed them into the dry powder inhaler.
I brought the boys down and invited them to take a seat.
“I’m gonna set the scene for you,” I said, handing them blindfolds. “Imagine you’re on a farmhouse in the middle of rural Pennsylvania.”
Once their blindfolds were fastened, I started the binaural beats on the speakers. “You are surrounded by hundreds of acres of cornfield,” I said and rang the bell.
I took the powder inhaler to each one and instructed them to inhale on my count. “One… two… three… breathe in,” I’d say, spraying the ground MDMA. “This will help you envision the scene a bit better,” I told them.
They were giddy with excitement as I walked them through the story. I could tell when the drugs kicked in because their reactions became more animated. Once I realized my power, I’ll admit I embellished the details a little bit, but the boys were having the time of their lives.
Although I wanted to go deeper, I stuck with the story, making sure to get their permission before veering into spoiler territory. I ended on a strong note then let the high wear off before driving them home.
The boys decided, on their own volition, that they’d tell their parents they saw the movie as planned and that it was fantastic. They knew it was sketchy going over to a single neighborhood man’s house under the radar, so they promised each other to keep quiet.
As the months went on, that same group of four boys returned a few more times, asking me to take them on some sort of adventure. Sometimes they had specific requests–I want to fly; Let’s do a haunted house; How bout a creepy version of Disneyland, etc. Other times, they let me call the shots.
The process was simple enough. I played around with drug types and dosages, along with my hypnosis techniques and music. Eventually, I had formulas for every type of occasion.
As that group of four boys got older, they brought their younger brothers and other neighborhood kids as a kind of sacred rite-of-passage.
In 2007, Jimmy graduated high school. He went on to other things and I stayed in the same place, continuing my research. Eventually, I got a job teaching Psychology 101 at the community college. By that time, I had myself a group of about eight regulars aged twelve to fifteen that would come over about once a month and allow me to take them on whatever adventure they (or I) wanted.
Again, not a pervert.
After applying blindfolds, dimming the lights, putting on music, and giving each of them a couple inhales of my special powder, I told them to imagine various scenarios. I’d give only a basic level of detail and allow their drug-infused brains to fill in the gaps. I’ll admit I pushed the boundaries sometimes to see what kind of reaction I’d get.
It was around the year 2015 when I made my first real breakthrough. I had a group of six boys, I think. After the regular setup, I decided to do something a little different. To the best of my recollection, here’s how the session went:
“I want you to imagine you’ve arrived at an abandoned mansion in the middle of the desert. It’s the biggest house you’ve ever seen. Very dark, very creepy. You open the rusty gate that guards the property and walk through, kicking your feet through piles of moldy leaves.
“You slip past what remains of the front door and walk in on a grand entrance. Double staircases, a giant crystal chandelier, granite floors. It smells of mildew and dust, like it hasn’t been touched in years. Cobwebs cake seemingly every corner. As you step in and take in the utter beauty of this masterpiece of a mansion, you hear something—the faint lull of a cello.
“Intrigued, you follow the sound, taking you down long, winding corridors to a two-story library. The shelves are stocked with books, but they are dusty and rotted much like everything else in the house. The faded sun makes its way through the large stained-glass windows, giving off glares of all colors. In the center of the room is a beautiful woman. She is the composite of every beautiful woman you have ever seen.”
Each of the boys shifted, smiles creeping on their faces. I couldn’t help but smile too.
“That beautiful woman is the one who’s playing the cello. She plays with such fervent passion. The way it reverberates through the library sends a chill down your spine. As you stand there, watching her play carefully with seemingly her whole body, you notice that the second-floor mezzanine is beginning to fill up with people. People you know. Friends, family, acquaintances. They wear somber looks as they take their place standing above you. None of them seem to notice you standing there.
“Suddenly, you realize why they’re there. Off to the side, behind the cellist, is an open casket. Your heart sinks as you begin to understand the situation you have walked into. You cautiously approach the mahogany casket as the cello croons in the background. You lean forward to get a closer look at the body. There, with taut white flesh, closed eyes, and caked in makeup, is your dead body.”
One of the boys yelped and fell out of his chair. The others snapped out of hypnosis, ripping the blindfolds off. A couple of them had tears streaming down their faces.
I turned off the music and nervously watched them compose themselves in silence. There were so many emotions in the room, I couldn’t get a good read on the boys. Eventually, once things relaxed a bit, one of the boys approached me.
“I’m gonna go home,” he said.
“Okay, do you need a ride? Are you okay?” I asked.
“I’m… I’ll be fine. I just—” he paused for a moment holding back tears. “I’ve been an asshole to my little brother lately. Now I’m worried that I’ll die, or he’ll die before I have a chance to make things right. I don’t want things to end like this. I want him to know—”
He looked around to the other guys and saw that their emotions seemed to match his own. “I want him to know I love him.” He walked upstairs, out the front door, never to be seen again.
A few of the other boys expressed something similar—that there were a few people in their lives that they had been jerks to, that they had lied to, that they hadn’t been nice to. They wanted to make things right.
For the first time since I had begun this endeavor, I felt good about myself. It was the first time I had dared do anything meaningful with the therapy and it seemed to be effective. These boys’ lives were changed for good because of this simple session.
Fast forward a few years and I have had almost a hundred different boys come to do guided psychedelic therapy sessions with me. They all understood the gravity of keeping it on the down-low—a point that tended to be baked into the initial invitation.
Tonight, however, I took things too far.
Rather than using the therapy as a method to help the boys explore themselves, I attempted to use it as a method to learn the secrets of the universe.
Just a few hours ago, a group of four boys, two of which I had hosted before stopped by, asking if I could conduct a session. I had nothing else going on, aside from a little reading and late-night solo drinking, so I let them in. They had just come from basketball practice.
They followed me into the basement and took their seats. The two boys that had been there before—Adam and Bryson—explained the process to the two new boys—Bradford and Trey. The two new boys seemed nervous, as most first-timers are, but they trusted their friends enough to proceed.
I started the music, dimmed the lights, and instructed them to place the blindfolds on. I took another sip of whiskey then walked the inhaler around, giving each boy three puffs of my special sauce.
Aside from generalities, I don’t usually plan these ‘adventures’ too far in advance. I suppose it was the late-night reading of Lovecraft infused with alcohol and a relentless thunderstorm that led me on tonight’s particular excursion.
I started the session slowly, allowing about thirty minutes for the drugs to take full effect, all while occasionally ringing the bell.
“You find yourself in the middle of the woods one evening, the pink sky filtering through thick rows of pine trees. You walk carefully, mindfully through the woods, the soft padding of fallen pine needles cushioning your every step.”
The boys slouched in their chairs as they fell deeper into hypnosis.
“As you walk along, smelling the sweet smell of the pines, hearing the chirping crickets, you find a fallen wooden sign half-buried in the ground. You dig it out and brush it off. On it reads something quite peculiar. ‘This way to the end of the world,’ it reads. You find a tree with an old rusty nail about six feet up and determine that this must be what the sign was attached to.
“You continue trekking through the woods, all while keeping an eye out for whatever the end of the world might be. The further you go into the forest, the darker it gets. Pretty soon, you start to feel something. You start to internalize the gravity of the situation. Although you thought the sign was silly at first, you now believe it. You become confident that you are about to discover something groundbreaking.
“The chirping crickets suddenly stop. Ahead of you is a metal stairway that leads down into a wide hole—about fifty feet in diameter. You edge closer to the hole and realize that the fading daylight doesn’t offer you enough to see the extent of its depth.
“You consider turning back, but the unwavering sense of curiosity gets the best of you and you decide to descend the stairs. You go slowly at first, testing the loadbearing of each step carefully. After about twenty stairs, you feel safe and start descending quicker. Another hundred feet down, you happen upon a heavy metal door with rusted bolts and hinges.
“You push the door hard and it squeaks open revealing a man playing basketball alone in an empty arena. Each time the ball bounces, it echoes through the building and into the stairwell you occupy.”
Some of the boys sit upright, smirking.
“After making a long three, the man grips the basketball and turns slowly to face you. He walks to you very carefully. As he gets closer, you realize the man is huge.”
The boys grip their seats.
“Once he’s about fifty feet away, you recognize him. It’s Lebron James!”
The boys laugh in excitement. One of them stands up and pumps his fist. I can’t help but chuckle to myself at my spontaneity. Lebron James is probably the only current NBA player I can name.
“When he gets to the doorway, standing right in front of you, a serious look passes on his face, and he begins to speak.” I clear my throat and drop my voice.
“’I know that you think you’re just having a fun time, going on a psychedelic adventure, but you have to understand something,’ he says. ‘This journey is important. Very important. What you are doing has the potential to unlock all the mysteries of the earth. You just have to keep going. Promise me you’ll keep going.’”
One of the boys swallows hard. All of them nod in agreement.
“Then, the ball he’s holding turns to fire. He dribbles it a few times and spins it on his finger, apparently unfazed. He hands you the ball and you hold it with both hands. The flames dance around the ball without burning you. ‘This will help light your path,’ he says, then slams the door. Lebron James is gone. You continue down the stairwell, your path lit by the flaming basketball.
“After another hour of descending the stairs, you reach a second door. This one is equally heavy and rusty as the first. As you push it open, you hear the sound of waves crashing. You lean your shoulder into the door, as you did with the first one, and shove it open. Sand spills onto your feet. You look upon a beautiful endless beach of white sand bordered by blue, crashing waves on one side and lush jungle vegetation on the other. A cool, saltwater mist touches your skin.
“When you hear the ding of the bell, the sun will disappear,” I said. “One… two… three…” I dinged the bell and waited for a moment. A couple of the boys leaned forward.
“You can still hear the waves crashing and feel the ocean mist, but the world is pitch black. No stars. No moon. You can only see the few feet of sand in front of you, as illuminated by the flaming basketball. As you focus on the sound, you hear someone walking toward you. When I count to three and ding the bell, the sun will reappear, and your mother will be standing there. One… two… three…” I dinged the bell again. The boys smiled nervously.
“This woman brought you into the world, she fed you, clothed you, changed your diapers. Your mother sacrificed so much for you. You feel this. In this moment, you internalize an undying gratitude for your mother. You would do absolutely anything for her—you’d take a bullet for her or jump in front of a bus. Absolutely anything.”
I wait for a moment, allowing my words to marinate.
“Your mom stands in the sand about fifty feet back, looking at you with a smile. She invites you in, but you can’t move—you’re stuck in the stairwell. As soon as you realize this, you see someone else approach. A man dressed head-to-toe in black emerges from the jungle with a machete. His identity is concealed by a leather black mask.
“Your mom continues to smile, unaware of the man in black approaching. You try to call out, but you can’t speak. You wave your hands furiously until she pays attention. A look of fear passes over her. As she turns around to confront her attacker, the man hits her over the head, knocking her unconscious. You notice for the first time that there is a large cage in the sand behind the attacker. The man drags your unconscious mother into the cage, slams the door, and locks it. You look at her limp body sprawled out on the metal floor of the cage and are filled with rage.
“You try to move again but can’t. You try to scream but can’t. The man in black notices you and approaches. When he is standing right in front of you, he dangles the key to the cage and laughs a deep, ugly chuckle. He then throws the key out of the door, over your head. You hear it clank down the staircase, disappearing far, far below you into the void. The man pulls his mask off revealing a horrific, warped face with gaping, bloody holes where his eyes should be. He speaks again: ‘one more door.’ The door slams shut, booming into the stairwell.”
One of the boys shakes his head furiously. The others look angry. It’s working, I thought.
“As you continue descending the stairs, lit by the flaming basketball, you feel brave and confident, like you can confront whatever lies in the third and final door. You can get the keys to the cage. You can save your mother and you can find the secrets to the end of the world. You just have to keep going. You have to be—”
Thunder cracked outside, loud enough to make me jump and snap the boys out of hypnosis. They ripped their blindfolds off and stumbled to their feet, breathing heavily.
“Oh my god, that was intense,” Adam said.
“You don’t want to keep going?” I asked.
“Man, that was enough for one night. Great trip though, I loved meeting Lebron James. That felt so real. Didn’t that feel real?” Trey said to the others. They nodded in agreement.
“Damn lightning woke you guys up,” I said.
“Well, thanks for havin’ us over Mr. Marcus,” Bryson said, picking up his hat.
As they started up the stairs, I noticed that not all of them snapped out of the hypnosis. Bradford sat still, blindfold on, still gripping his chair.
“Should I wake him?” I asked the others. This was Bradford’s first session and I didn’t want him to freak out when he awoke.
“You guys go ahead, I’ll wait for Bradford to wake up,” Adam said.
Bryson and Trey disappeared a couple minutes later after making plans with Adam to meet up at Bradford’s house when . Adam then took a seat in the corner, excited to watch the session with Bradford proceed.
“You continue descending the stairs, a blast of cool air blowing past you,” I said.
Bradford visibly shivered.
“What’s your strategy?” Adam whispered to me.
I turned the music up, allowing Bradford a few minutes to descend the stairs.
I walked over to Adam. “The key is to get each of the patients in touch with as many emotions and feelings as possible. Happy, sad, afraid, amused, etc. Then I try to create sensory experiences—exposing them to heat, cold, smells, tastes, etc. The more the hypnosis can infiltrate their brain, the more effective it is.”
“What’s your end goal with this session?” Adam asked.
I smiled. “We have five senses, right?”
“Yeah. Sight, smell, touch, taste, and… what’s the last one?”
“Hearing,” I answered.
“But a lot of our brain is unused, right?” I posed.
“So, what if we can experience other senses, but don’t know how to activate them?” I asked. “Like in the same sense that birds or whales know how and when to migrate. Or how any number of animals and insects can locate food or water in almost any scenario. They have these intuitions that we don’t quite understand.”
“And you think these sessions can activate those extra senses?”
“I don’t know if it’s possible to activate them in the real world, necessarily, but I do believe that we can activate them within the hypnosis.”
“What kind of senses?”
I took another sip of my whiskey. “It’s still a theory, but I think we can tune our inner antenna, so to speak, to understand the secrets of the universe.”
“Like if we’re alone in the universe. Like how all this came to be. Like what happens to the souls who have passed,” I said.
Adam sat in contemplation for a moment then smiled. “Damn, well let’s hope Bradford can bring us home,” he said.
I tipped my glass to him, sipped my whiskey, then took my place at the front of the room. Bradford hadn’t moved an inch.
“As you descend the stairs, you begin to hear voices calling from above. You hear your dad, your siblings, your friends. They all voice their support. You can do it! Keep going! You’re almost there! Be brave!”
Bradford sat up tall in his chair. Getting closer, I thought.
“The flaming basketball finally finds an end to the staircase. You step onto a cobblestone landing and look around you. You have descended into a large silo of some kind—maybe a cave or a well—with nothing but a door of similar size and configuration as the first two against the wall. On the ground, a flicker of light reveals the location of the cage keys wedged between two stones. However, before you pick the keys up, you realize that you must first open the door.
“Just then someone descends the stairs behind you, but you don’t feel scared. The person steps into the light of the flaming basketball and you realize that it’s you. You are standing face to face with yourself. He smiles at you and you smile back.”
Bradford smiled and I looked to Adam, he gave me a thumbs up.
“The other you puts his hand on your shoulder and looks into your eyes. He’s almost like a more self-assured version of yourself. He’s fearless. He’s brave. He’s a hero. ‘You must understand,’ he says. ‘You have been endowed for this mission. You were chosen long ago for this mission. Behind this door lies a cloud of knowledge. When you open the door and step inside, you will be immersed in this cloud. You will be met with a deep understanding of the mysteries of the universe. You will see the origins of creation. You will understand the immensity of all that exists. You will know these things and understand them in a way that will allow you to communicate your findings to others in the real world.’”
I took a deep breath and looked over to Adam again for approval. He nodded, a look of utter anticipation on his face. “Do it,” he mouthed.
“The other you stands aside and disappears, leaving nothing between you and the door. You understand what you must do. You take three steps forward, place one hand on the cold metallic door and apply pressure. As you do so, you feel something trickling down your upper lip. You stop pushing and wipe your nose. You are bleeding.”
Adam and I watched Bradford carefully for about fifteen seconds before he gently wiped his nose. He motioned his head to look down at his hand and opened his mouth in surprise. There was blood—actual blood—on his hands.
“Holy shit!” Adam whispered to me.
Frankly, I was more shocked than he was. Bradford was my first completely immersed patient. He was in my complete control. This was not an empowering thought, mind you, it was a horrifying one. I briefly considered pulling the plug on the whole thing right then—guiding him away from the door and back up the staircase to the real world, but I didn’t.
I swallowed hard and held my bell steady.
“Now, I’m going to count to three and ring the bell. When you hear the bell, you will push open the door and become immersed in the cloud. After a few moments in the cloud, I will ring the bell and you will exit the cloud and close the door behind you.”
I repeated the instructions then took a deep breath.
“Here we go,” I mouthed to Adam. He nodded.
“One… Two… Three…” I said, then dinged the bell.
Bradford jolted, flailing his arms and grunting. His chair rocked violently. I instructed Adam to steady it, so he didn’t tumble off. How responsible of me.
The jolting stopped after a minute and Bradford sat still. Both his nostrils were bleeding now.
“Now, when I ring the bell again, you will exit the room and close the door behind you. One… Two…”
Bradford stood up abruptly, sending the chair and Adam sprawling onto the floor behind him. He ripped his blindfold off and looked around frantically, like a trapped animal.
“Bradford, it’s all okay,” I said, but I knew it wasn’t.
He didn’t wake up on his own volition. Nor was there an external stimulus to wake him up—my bell, or a loud noise like the thunder before. Something inside of the hypnosis woke him up.
Adam stumbled to his feet. “Bradford, it’s alright buddy. It’s me, Adam, right here,” he said and reached for him.
“No!” I yelled. “Don’t touch him. Come here,” I told him. Adam obeyed and stood next to me against the wall.
Bradford looked around anxiously for another minute, his feet unmoving, then fixed his eyes on the concrete block wall on the opposite side of the room.
“Stay here,” I said to Adam. I walked to the other side of the room, between Bradford and the wall, the bell clutched in my hand. Frankly, I didn’t know what to do. I had to assume he was still under some kind of hypnosis, though I didn’t know whose.
“Bradford, when I count to three and ring the bell, you will come out of hypnosis. Again, when I count to three and ring the bell, you will come out of hypn—”
He bolted straight at me, knocking me to the side and plowing straight into the wall, headfirst.
“Shit!” I yelled, stumbling back to my feet. Adam ran over.
Between the two of us, we held Bradford down. He had a large gash on his head and a steady stream of blood pouring down his face, but he didn’t seem to be in pain.
“Bradford, listen to me,” I said.
He turned his head toward me, revealing jittering pupils, as if there was an earthquake behind those eyes.
Adam was crying. His phone buzzed across the room, diverting our attention for a moment. “Do we call the cops?” he asked.
“Yes, call 911,” I said, trying incoherently to piece together a story in my head.
Once Adam got to his phone on the other side of the room, Bradford began seizing, knocking me on my ass. I backed up, recognizing my feeble body to be no match for his apparent raw animal strength.
“Please, Bradford, breathe with me,” I said.
He again eyed the block wall and ran at it with full force, his skull crunching on impact. Blood spattered on the wall and the floor. He fell onto the ground with a hollow thud.
I tried to lay Bradford’s lifeless body straight when his eyes shot open, a look of pure terror on his face. “No!” he screamed and rolled away from me. He got onto his hands and knees, breathing heavy.
As I carefully eased toward him, he let out a loud grunt and began hitting his head on the concrete floor with inhuman intensity. The sound of his head repeatedly crunching against the floor like that will haunt me forever. Blood continued to pool beneath him.
I backed away from him, helpless.
Adam screamed in horror.
After five or six hard hits, Bradford finally collapsed onto the ground, splashing in his own blood.
Tears were streaming down my face. Adam was sobbing uncontrollably.
A few moments passed in bone-chilling silence.
“Did you call anyone?” I asked with a shaky voice.
Adam stared unblinking at Bradford’s mangled head resting on the ground.
He snapped out of it. “Uh, no, I—” he said, swiping through his phone.
“Okay—the story—our story—” I started.
Then Adam’s eyes grew wide.
“What?” I asked.
“The others. Trey and Bryson,” Adam said, staring at his phone with his hand covering his mouth.
“What is it?” I asked.
“When they got to Bradford’s house, they found Bradford’s mom on the kitchen floor,” he said and looked up at me. “She’s dead.”
“Shit,” I said.
“It’s the hypnosis. It has to be,” Adam said.
“No, that’s impossible, the hypnosis can’t control someone who isn’t under hypnosis,” I said, nervously. “It can’t be related. No way.”
“You said that the goal is to tap into other senses, right? To activate other parts of the brain?” Adam said.
“Well, yeah, that’s a theory, but either way, how would that kill Bradford’s mom?”
“I don’t know. The only thing I can think of, is that, clearly Bradford was all-in. I mean, you hypnotized him into a bloody nose, didn’t you? Maybe when you put our moms in a cage on the beach… I don’t know,” he said and slipped his phone into his pocket. “Which—oh shit—I need to check on my mom,” he said and darted up the basement stairs.
Now I sit here in my cold, mildewy basement with this dead boy’s body, penning my final haunting confession.
For the record, I want to apologize to Bradford’s family. I take full responsibility for his death. And in the case that I am the cause of Bradford’s mother’s death, I apologize for that, too. I don’t really want to think through the scientific implications if that is the case, to be honest.
All I know is that whether I spend my days as a free man or behind bars, I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to sleep again wondering what Bradford saw when he opened that door and stepped into the cloud.
Something he saw drove him to this madness. That much is clear.
I hear the police sirens outside now.
One last note to the psychiatric community or those who may be looking to build upon my research: Some things are better left unknown.