Today I want to talk to you about one of the most popular, or at least well-known, Creepypastas.
The Russian Sleep Experiment.
This story is not, in itself, unique, I’m not even sure if it was the first Creepypasta to play with the idea of preventing people from sleeping and the consequences there of, but it is certainly the first one to become so popular.
I have come across a fair few Creepypasta’s trying to recreate the same kind of atmosphere and chills that this story is known for, alas while they can tell a similar story very few manage to recreate the feeling of foreboding and dread that this story does.
Russian researchers in the late 1940s kept five people awake for fifteen days using an experimental gas based stimulant. The chamber was stocked with books, cots with no bedding, running water and toilets, and enough dried food to last all five for over a month.
Everything was fine for the first five days. Though it was noted that the subjects talked about increasingly traumatic incidents in their past, and the general tone of their conversations took on a darker aspect.
After five days they started to complain about the circumstances and started to demonstrate severe paranoia. They stopped talking to each other and began alternately whispering to the microphones and one way mirrored portholes. The researchers suspected this was an effect of the gas itself.
After nine days the first of them started screaming. The other captives didn’t react to it. They continued whispering to the microphones until the second of the captives started to scream. The two non-screaming captives took the books apart, smeared page after page with their own feces and pasted them calmly over the glass portholes. The screaming promptly stopped. So did the whispering to the microphones. There was no more communication from within the chamber though there was evidence that the subjects were still alive.
On the morning of the 14th day the researchers announced: “We are opening the chamber to test the microphones; step away from the door and lie flat on the floor or you will be shot. Compliance will earn one of you your immediate freedom.” In response they heard a voice response: “We no longer want to be freed.”
It was finally decided to open the chamber at midnight on the fifteenth day.
The chamber was flushed of the stimulant gas and filled with fresh air and immediately voices from the microphones began begging, for the gas to be turned back on. The chamber was opened. Four of the five subjects were still alive, although no one could rightly call the state that any of them in ‘life.’
The food rations past day five had not been touched, chunks of the dead test subject’s had been stuffed into the drain in the centre of the chamber, blocking the drain. All four ‘surviving’ test subjects had large portions of their muscle and skin torn away. The abdominal organs of all four test subjects had been removed. All the removed organs remained intact, were laid on the floor, fanning out around the eviscerated but still living bodies of the subjects. The digestive tract of all four could be seen to be working, digesting food.
The test subjects put up a fierce fight in the process of being removed from the chamber. Several soldiers were killed and one of the subjects also died. The surviving three test subjects were moved to a medical facility, the two with intact vocal cords continuously begging for the gas demanding to be kept awake. One was taken to a surgical operating room to have his organs put back in where it was discovered he was very difficult to sedate and once he was sedated he died. The next subject was not sedated while the scientists put his organs back in and did not react to the pain. The other two subjects underwent the same surgery without sedative. When asked why they hurt themselves the subjects responded “I must remain awake.”
The subjects were put back in the chamber and the gas turned back on. Though this time they were restrained and hooked up to an EEG monitor. When the brain waves were monitored they showed that the subjects were repeatedly suffering brain death, before returning to normal. Though he fell asleep before the gas could be turned back on and instantly died.
As the chamber was being sealed one of the researchers drew his gun and shot the commander, then turned the gun on one of the subjects. The final subject was asked what he was and responded with “We are you. We are the madness that lurks within you all, begging to be free at every moment in your deepest animal mind. We are what you hide from in your beds every night. We are what you sedate into silence and paralysis when you go to the nocturnal haven where we cannot tread.”
The researcher paused. Then aimed at the subject’s heart and fired. The EEG flatlined as the subject weakly choked out, “So… nearly… free…”
This story is particularly effective for several reasons.
The first in my opinion is the picture that usually accompanies it. Its bloody awful and deserves a Google (I won’t e reproducing it here for various copyright reasons).
Beyond the sinister and creepy image the story taps into several common fears such as the fear of madness, the fear of the monsters that these people become, the fear of science going to far and the fear of not being able to sleep.
If you’ve ever struggled to sleep then you will know the frustration, the feeling like you might go bloody insane and the helplessness at being unable to control your own body. But more than that you can actually die from not being able to sleep and it doesn’t take very long. Going without sleep for 3 days or longer is very dangerous. You’ll start experiencing frequent hallucinations and paranoia. Eventually, symptoms of psychosis can trigger a disconnect from reality. Eventually, your brain will begin to stop functioning properly, which can lead to organ failure and death.
The atmosphere in this story is made up of several elements, the thriller horror element, where it employs a psychological fear, the gross out horror (come on these guys disembowel themselves and under go surgery with no pain relief) and lastly the classic horror atmosphere. There a definite mad scientist element here reminiscent of Frankenstein and the monsters we create and become.
The only thing this story lacks is stakes, we are never made aware of the stakes in this story, what are the subjects feeling beyond being mad? Is their motivation to survive? Do they have loved ones to protect? We also don’t even really know the motivations of the scientists carrying out the experiment, why do they want to force people not to sleep? Morbid curiosity or is there a hoped for practical application?
While a mystery element in a story is great, it can be disappointing when you don’t know enough about motivations etc to truly connect with characters.