Below is the text version of The Obsession but if you’d rather, I’ve added links to the audio version created over at AbsconderMedia. You can read along or just listen, however you prefer!
Check out the Counterworlds website for this story and more. If you’d like to know a little bit more about these characters and others to come, keep watch for the Bystanders and Crew tab.
A scent of pure fresh, cold air, puffs in a white emptiness, too clean and bright. There’s not a soul to be found or coherent landing to be understood. Sterility ruins any friendliness here, making it vicious to the senses. Sight and smell pierce cold through, too deep. It drags you in further by these icy knives and shuffles its acrid ache into every part of your blinded body. There’s pain in everything blooming in to view, like dark blots of ink splattered on the white scene, taking form, and creasing in the shadows. And then you see her, a pale skinned girl. A crisp clean white gown clings to her youthful body, stretched a little too far with her twisted pose. She stands with her back to me, yellow curled tresses falling past her shoulders, glinting sharp with the beaming lights above. It’s too strong, too forceful this light, that what seems like a sweet young girl, turns her grotesque in the unrelenting beams of white hot lights, shafts like silver blades with their refined edges digging into her skin. And it’s because of the shadows there, the creases in that uniform that tell the story. Her head is bowed forward, shoulders slumped, pulling the softness of what could be into misshapen horror.
She begins to shake. The girls’ soft quaking turns those shadows into looming hands, gripping onto her, to steady the tremble, to keep this deathly ill image. It’s no use however, and she breaks free from their dark comfort with a cry. Mournful at first, turn into heavy breaths, sucking in the cold emptiness, searching for relief that will never come. The hallway begins to echo her sobs, mocking her sadness, teasing for more of her pain.
Curiosity, as is my nature, unfurls itself from my mind and travels to my reaching hand. My gloved hand, fingers splayed to make for the tearful girls frame, drifts toward her and she’s by my side in a matter of seconds though we were so far apart before. And then as I lightly brush her shoulder, she snaps to attention, turning piercing gold eyes onto mine. With her stare, unlike the white chilled void around her, returns with heat. Warm and sweltering mists flood my world. And the white is soon washed away by a mixture of torrid hues: reds, oranges and gold. The colors flash with the intensity of flickering flames in a whirling wind. They’re resilient to the invisible pull, steadfast in their vigor to remain in existence. Nothing can remove their presence, much like the silhouettes now looming afore me, shaded in a deep brick red.
The smell of semi-sweet sweat, pungent, beckons. It’s intoxicating, nauseatingly wonderful, that you cannot help but to breathe it all in. And by doing so you’ll choke and gasp for true air, but the primal beast within relishes in its sickening flavor. So you’re pulled in unknowingly for more. This is a feeling I almost had forgotten, sensations so distant from what I’ve grown accustomed to. These are passions that, for this brief unconscious moment, I yearn to discover. Flesh onto flesh, grasping sweet and tender ecstasy, however fleeting.
Dazed and dreaming of the peach I no longer knew, I near these figures in this sultry cacophony. I want to be one with them, or not so much them, but the feeling of vitality; to rediscover what that was again overtakes me like a poison, begging me to sleep for eternity.
The truth however is that from under short straight bangs, those gold eyes glower up toward my approach.
“Get out…” Her voice comes, echoing and booming from all directions. It’s a growl, a warning that springs my senses back to me. The girl has a rich voice, dominant though there’s an initial sharpness to it.
I know this girl and her voice, but aside of knocking me back to sound mind, it doesn’t hold power over me. Treading carefully my ethereal form floats closer. I can see her well-enough now in the thickening heat. The form of an older male holds her tightly, body to body, entwined in darkness, yet the girl continues her glare at me from behind the man’s shoulder.
“You did this to yourself, you realize this, yes? You beckoned me whether either of us like this or not,” I speak aloud to her, my own voice strong and steady though not as effective as her incorporeal directionless one. A brief silence follows my case before she screams,
“Get out Isaac!!”
This time I feel the pull, much like a throw-rug being pulled from under your feet, and you are in the air, weightless and falling. All heat and cold flies from me, the visage of the two lovers or even the bitter white hallway is cast away. Out into the grey street of a city I am sent spiraling to, landing fine and well on my feet but not without confusion. Sounds of vehicles and people shouting greet me, swelling unpleasant to my ears, although to my eyes, nothing seems to move. Birds are frozen in the air, wings unmoving mid-flight, a still in time. And people are mounted in place, blank faces over their round heads, lacking definition. Their garments are each dull colors, with tints here and there, mismatched but draping off various human forms, young and old. The buildings are tall and foreign to me, reflecting clear blue skies of glass surfaces though the sky itself is a blank white sheet. Though I know this is all only a memory, it draws my gaze repeatedly with awe and wonder.
On stable ground, I begin to walk on my new-found legs, moving in the direction of this now tranquil pull. I pass an older female, her face fixed in sustained time, with dark black hair and grey eyes, waving towards a bright yellow-checkered automobile. The features are so distinct now; I know I’m close to the memories core. Colors become more vibrant as I pass on and little nuances are made noted, such as the weeds springing from a path in a concrete slab or the discarded paper wrapper of what I can only understand as some food store, possibly from somewhere near.
“This is where it started,” The girls voice explains, a whisper hovering in my ear, it stops me in my tracks. Her speech is soft and melodic, wrapped in personal aches endeavors.
“This is when I decided to give up.”
Then the birds took flight and the vehicles animated, the memory unfolding into movement. Everything comes alive. From my side, stands the girl, her face concealed by her corn-flower hair. She puts out a foot so I do too, the both of us walking, being pulled into our pre-destined path.
There’s excitement ahead, as is fear. Vibes of sorrow and frustration linger in her wake, encircling me, connecting me to her by such strong feelings. I don’t resist it, my eagerness gaining the hold to learn the girls’ reason for all this disjointed recollection. And the girl doesn’t make notion to notice me or even to speak, busy with her bitter recount. I prod the girl to talk,
“Spare me your tales. I’m not interested in your ridiculous memories. I didn’t ask to be here-“
“Well I didn’t want you here either!” She shoots back quickly, teeth clenched as she stares ahead, taking her steps to inevitability.
I know how to push her buttons, as the saying goes, and it is the best way to get her talking so I do so, indiscriminately,
“I’m afraid we have no choice. You can have yourself to blame on that one. So if I’m forced to relive your misfortune, I might as well inquire. You said it yourself, oh so dramatically, ‘where it started, giving up,” I laugh out briefly, finding her discontent amusing before I continue,
“Which means this memory holds much more meaning to you, or rather your subconscious than you’re willing to admit, to me, much less, yourself.”
The girl walks in silence, ignoring me or perhaps letting the thought sink in, toiling in that wretched mind of hers. Of course, in the state she is in, there is no ignoring my presence. So if she won’t speak to me, I’ll wait patiently for her to talk, which she will, I have no doubt.
“I know this city. I’ve been here before, countless. It’s lost its shine, I have to admit,” She finally begins, truthful as there is no real way to hide a thing here. “This is where I learned to despise it all, this city, these people, the sounds and the sky. And still here I am, letting it haunt me.”
I save a small victory smile to myself and continue to pick the girls brain apart.
“So will this story show me why I am here as well? Why I have to endure that castle, with you and your equally unimpressive cohorts?”
“You’re not some prisoner. You can come and go as you please,” The girl says gruffly, eyes steadfast ahead and lips barely a shutter as they move, “You were an experiment. It’s long over by now.”
“An experiment, yes, but more valuable to your own design, is this right? It’s why the others never wanted to continue such morbid tests. This is something you’re obsessed over,” I play out; keen to be direct to omit any further tact on her part to brush me off.
This time her pace slows, and I’m a few steps back, watching her from behind. She scoffs and drifts one eye toward me, head turning to look across her shoulder.
“You were obsessed once,” Is her single reply and her trek resumes.
“Me?” I laugh and move over to her side, still unable to fully see her face beneath her long silken golden hair. “My dear, this isn’t about me. Oh no, very much so. This, in its entirety, is solely your own doing.”
We near a cross-walk and she stops once more, waiting next to the silver sign for her signal to proceed. I don’t think it’ll come however. A feeling of sorrow and ache intensifies, stemming from her beating core, traveling down her limbs. It makes a mask across her face, contorting awful for a few seconds that sink their pins down through her skin. Slowly she looks up to me.
Her golden eyes hold my gaze, and for an instant I can feel the writhing pain within her, burning through her veins, every muscle tightening wanting to rip off the bones it feels. It’s a pain she remembers and continues to feel to this very day, a reason enough for her being here, on the cusp of blank eternity, of sweet unconscious permanence.
“What happened?” I begin, my anger toward her and her reasons ebbs away so suddenly. My voice pulls remorse from its recesses, turning compassionate just slightly. I nearly feel sorry for her.
She waivers quivering for a moment, gauging my sincerity. This girl is smart however, knowing our predicament, what naked events will transpire with or without her added voice. A small smirk pulls at the corner of her mouth, bitter and bringing that sharp ugly pain back to her mind momentarily. It hurts to smile and play with the grim knowledge hidden in these recollections, still she tries,
“I can’t walk in high heels very well.”
She motions to her tall knee-length leather boots. They’re angled forward dramatically, her toes made to a point just as the stick at her heels.
“And this one idiot on a bicycle knocks me into oncoming traffic.”
A few angry shouts through the crowd at our backs and I’m caught off-guard. Out flies a man atop a bicycle, peddling with such speed, he barrels through the passerby, claiming the whole sidewalk to himself in a matter of seconds. The girl meanwhile wobbles in her heels, a foot bending inwards too oddly and sends her hurtling forward for balance. Her and the cyclist meet body to body, knocking against one another and sending each of them tumbling in the opposite directions.
Tires soon screech with protesting motors, coming to an abrupt stop too late. The sound of flesh meeting steel and pavement sends grimaces to the watching bystanders, each person bracing for the hit as if it were themselves. Eyes large and white with mouths agape, the people look on in horror until one screams.
The cross-walk sign changes, the signal to move appears, but no one does, save for the cyclist.
He, in unmistakable guilt and panic, gets to his feet in a hurry, backing away from the scene he created. Not wanting to remain its maker, he leaps onto his bicycle and rides off again. And his reason to flee is well-understood though unforgivable. The girls’ blood is spattered across the road, red gleaming droplets over black asphalt. Crimson is across the hood of the innocent drivers’ vehicle, a deepened dent in the shape from the girl. Her limbs are skewed and moving slowly, coming to rest once function is realized incapable, and fall limp to her sides.
I move down from the side-walk, around the frozen gawkers, blurring and turning grey. Inspecting the horrid scene of matted bloodied hair, scrapes and a protruding bone from the girls arm, I note it could’ve been much worse than what she gave on. Her glazed eyes stare up at me, unblinking and pained.
“That wasn’t what I meant,” I correct, unimpressed, meaning the whole reason for her morbid obsession. It’s useless however to prod the girl for the truth, as tedious as I find this all. Gradually I’ll learn. In time it will make sense.
The girl turns away her head, the only response she’ll give at this moment. Detail begins to morph into formless greys, bleeding from the lines. When her eyes begin to flutter shut, the scene removes its cohesion. Soon she melts into the patches of colors, spilling down, ink dripping and running toward me. It searches for collectiveness and engulfs me before I can make a protest.
My head swims, filling with that white void and muddled colors. It streams in and gains its ground. From my head to my feet, I’m taken over. And it aches, unprecedented. I know what exactly is happening to me but that’s my last true conscious thought before it all sinks in that claiming abyss.
I stare straight above through her hazy half-open eyes. We see the pristine ceiling for only a few seconds before it’s removed by searing beams, light to illuminate the damage we are made of. Voices speak around us, warbling indistinct to the punctual beep of a machine. It thumps familiar. I feel the pain throbbing from her side, head and limbs, physical – a concept I never thought I’d visit again. Over our numbed and battered body, we note the pokes and the prods, the gentle guide of others hands across our skin. There are others here, over us, watching us.
“The driver said she spotted the cyclist who pushed the victim into the road ride away,” A voice cuts in through the murmurs, clear though echoing.
“Poor girl. What is she fifteen? Sixteen?” Another voice dances in, moving in and out of focus. The voices sound far away and we strain to listen in, hoping to quell the panic quietly rising within us, knowing no good can ever come from such blinding whiteness.
“After we set the limb, we’ll check for any source of identification,” The third voice is booming, its’ power felt over our skin.
And suddenly clarity dawns, all commotion and speech coming clean. Soon we can see too. She and I, with new-found energy, flip our head this way and that, scanning the crew huddled around us. Exposed for them all to see, we make to move, to hide and cower, to escape their so called kindness. We’re tied down however, held in place while they work, blue aproned sexless figures towering. Their faces are blurred by the bright light, seeming like monsters in shadows.
“She’s up?! How much sedative did you give her?” One of the voices exclaims in awe and the other spoken to hesitates, not sure of themselves.
“It’s the right amount,” They say rushing away out of sight while we begin to struggle against our restraints.
Shouting erupts as we make to sit up, to get away, but the hands are firm on us. Our heart is racing and our stomach churns. We hate this. And then we hear a small crack in our thrashing, an audible noise but one we can hear even from within. In a half sitting pose we look to that torturous white sun and scream. Fire and needles rip through our flesh, from our arm and to our aching fear drenched head. Our nerves are shrieking, cringing under our skin. We cry out under the blanket of whiteness, tears in our eyes, removing all sight. As the air leaves our lungs empty and exhausted, we don’t know if we’d ever want to breathe again. But out of habit, in the spance of a sharp gasp, blissful tranquility consumes our world.
The next moment when our eyes flicker open, the light is gone, replaced by night-blue casted tiles overhead. Confused with the environment, feeling stiff and aching, we’re wondering about the time between our last memory and now.
It’s quiet, a reprieve at least from the beep of that monitor or of the talking monsters that had us. She knows better now in our filtering consciousness of what had transcribed in our memory, of how we panicked and shouted, afraid of who they were. This is a hospital, they were here to help us, not harm us.
Lifting her left arm, the broken one, the girl sees the heavy cast holding her weak limb together, then sighs in shallow relief. This isn’t a welcome peace really, not in this place. The doctors may have had good intentions but the view is one she loathes.
Oh, how this girl hates the silent white.
A steady throb persists all across her body even with the strong pain medications coursing through her veins. They don’t know what she’s capable of, they don’t know what she can endure. And she shows this with stubborn resolve, swinging her legs almost carelessly over the edge of the bed. Sitting up she feels the weight of her head, nearly swooning while looking down to the wrapped ankle beneath her and the thin hospital gown covering her small frame.
Scoping the room, the girl hears the steady breaths of others, patients hidden behind cloth curtains. The coast is more or less clear, but vacant in true calm. It’s foreboding. The cold and sterile air hits her and it makes her shiver. She wants to get out of here now.
Through her eyes I watch her slide to her feet, searching for her clothing at first before giving up and looking for something to write with. It can be nearly anything, all that truly matters is what will be written – ink or chalk were her favorite to use. There’s nothing, unfortunately, so creativity comes to mind. I feel the pinch as she rips the needle from her arm and pulls the silver from the tubing, still dripping red. In one hand she holds the needle and in the other she takes the IV nutrient bag.
“Is this it? Your poignant recollection?” I ask her from somewhere within her head, though I’m not too sure if she can hear me. “Why would you return here and drag me along through this dribble attempt to prove something profound?”
My given response is something I hadn’t known I could feel, something like a push, as if we are two physical entities, crawling for space within this shell of her body. In reality however, this isn’t flesh. This is her memory, like a film seen through eyes from long ago.
She staggers on her bare feet, recoiling from the linoleum as she makes way for a clear space on the floor. Moving down, her aching and sluggish limbs all too readily agree on the motion and make her collapse, knocking her knees so hard, spindles of pain echo to her hips. The nutrient bag is her main concern however, clear on one side, absence of medical text, a reflective surface she needs. It leaks from the tubing still attached but not enough to be a bother. If this works, the fluid could clear what will be written, erasing her marks after she leaves.
“I don’t understand what of this event? Why have you done this to yourself? Is this why you’re like this? You want to join the ranks of the undead?” I spout my inquiry after inquiry, becoming riled by her silence. The connection between us slowly fades, our souls splitting once more as my consciousness roots itself in agitation. I want to know, ‘why’.
“I’ve watched you from afar, how you are searching, restlessly. ‘For what?’ I’ve always wondered, and I’d figure I’d see in due time, but this was unforeseen,” Speaking frankly, my thoughts running to curiosity.
The girl disregards me, occupied with gritting teeth as she tears into her flesh with the needle down her arm, letting loose red. It drips to her elbow and plops great crimson marks over her gown. She doesn’t hesitate, taking the vibrant blood and proceeds to paint the floor, a circle around the nutrient bag, careful to draw it just right.
“To do this to yourself is beyond what I thought you’d do, so it must be crucial in some way.”
I feel her drive me from her mind, from the whole recollection it seems, but she is weak in this moment, vulnerable. Her mentality is fragile and the only effect she has is to waver the scene, blurring the images around her. She continues to draw her witchcraft across the linoleum but beyond her, much further from me even, is a vision of a meadow on the horizon, of a violet leaved tree rising upon a hill while a dark red sky looms further on. No particular emotion or sensations are attached to this vague memory. It’s a curious thing and it fades with a static whisper just as she stands, ready for what will come next.
“Tell me now, what are you searching for?” I rush out, moving closer to the girl once more, anxious to know the truth before this memory shuts closed. She starts to chant, low beneath her breath, indecipherable, inhuman.
“The castle! The Rift! It’s your cage! You feel it!” Spouting I hurry to learn this all, to know what makes her drive forward to planes unfathomable, dark and insane.
Beyond her chanting, a creak of a door is heard.
“Your friends were so keen to stay away from this! They see the danger you possess!” Shouting, I feel as if pleading, mind spinning to reach for the answer, hidden in her obsession.
A sliver beam comes to sever her darkness, the dark she needs.
“That’s the reason they left you!” Harsh speech erupts from my mouth, standing behind the girl when light floods the room, and we both dart our eyes to the source at our backs. She blinks at the brightness and flees when in rush a nurse and doctor. Shocked at the sight of blood, the newly made wound on her arm, they call for help. The girl struggles to keep away, limping on her injured foot, needle in her hand, warning them from approach. With a simple misstep she falls backwards and they’re on her, grasping her limbs while more march in.
I watch her thrash in vain, six persons in total restraining her and keep her still. She wails as they dose her with more sedatives, stronger than what they normally use, smart to see the undying will she holds. Her flailing persists for a few more seconds until her face slackens and the fight leaves her limbs. Drunk in chemical bliss they manage to return her to bed then tend to the newly injured arm.
“Don’t… I don’t belong here, I’m…” She mutters in an intoxicated slur. Ignored by the medical staff, they adhere to their task, securing the girl and helping her. They render her useless, aware but numb. Through drooping lids the girl watches as one by one they file from the room, leaving her be, at last, but hopeless, incapable of the fight still burning within her.
A solitary doctor remains posed behind the others, silhouetted by the blaring light from the door. He moves smoothly, cautiously peculiar, around the bed the drugged girl lies in. The man is blurred, edges leaking color and definition. He pulls something from his pocket, a rag, the girl surmises. Making to clean up the blood on the floor, he stoops below her line of sight and disappears for only a few seconds. When he rises once more, he strides to the girls side, shoving the rag back into his pocket. The foolish girl groans in response to his presence over her, to the shadow coming from the light. And when he lays a hand against the girls’ cheek, she lets out a whimper, confused.
“Don’t make this harder for you,” he cryptically whispers, voice like warm velvet, stroking the numb skin of her face before he procures another object from his pocket. A glint of metal catches the girls’ eye but it is quickly forgotten as he injects her again with sedative. The doctors’ footsteps are the last she’s aware of. And then darkness crashes upon us.
My heart leaps into fevered pounding. I rush to the girls side, feeling the dark grow, empty of sight or sound, threatening. Grasping her shoulders, I want her to wake up, to take me from this place. It’s her recollection, it’s her life; she should have the control. The thought that this could be it, that questions can never be solved completely or that meaning will never be found, crosses my mind in dawning fear. I wonder if death is truly this abysmal.
The girls’ gold eyes flutter open, brow furrowing beneath her short bangs.
“Where did you bring me?” She speaks out in a hush. We’re in a different place. The shift of the scene so abrupt, I hadn’t noticed.
I look down at myself, seeing the familiar grey suit, disheveled and worn, over my cream colored shirt untucked from my waist. My black vest is open and my wrinkled silk blue tie hangs loose from my neck. I stand over the hospital bed, over the girl, placed haphazard in the center hallway of my home from so long ago. Running to my lavatory, I stare transfixed to my image in the silver mirror, pure and true.
“I believe… This is my memory,” I start with a soft whisper, my hands moving down the scuff on my face, to my chest, the clothing there, then down to the basins edge to feel across the cool clean porcelain. My eyes move around to the familiar artifacts here, the combs, the shaving razor, the powders and perfumes.
“I just thought of my most comfortable place,” Uttering carefully, astounded by such familiar sights, so insignificant but welcomed. I breathe heavily and let a smile form across my lips.
“Afraid of the dark, are we?” The girl says in a jeer, coming into view in the reflection by my head. I ignore her comment and smug smile, absorbing the sights I had all but forgotten.
The air is warm and stale; the scent of my study in each little breath I take. I pass through the halls in amazement, inviting the calm creak of the wooden panel flooring with each rapid step I take. Greeting my tomes, my instruments, the furniture, the walls, I am in a whirlwind touching every memorable piece as delicate as I can muster, afraid the mere tension emanating from me would cause them to shatter. In each object memories rise and change the scene before me, merging into one another. Translucent figures of persons I had known cross my vision, reenacting my every recollection. My colleagues in the den turn to me and cheer my successes. They overlap and blur, one too many to decipher clearly, but wondrous all the same.
My mind is racing, fluttering around with each visual, a smile on my face as I pass and relive the most decadent of moments my life had conjured. It had been so perfect, so leveled, and I hadn’t noticed at all. Even the sour moments, where experiments failed and work ridiculed, were immaculate to me. It’s a wonderful ache that wrenches my heart, reminding me of what I left behind. To say I miss it would not be enough, for words do not match meaning for the transcendence of life, through strife and victory. Oh, no, never enough.
In my inner ramblings, wrapped in my own thoughts, I don’t notice the girl following me this way and that, watching my every memory flash before us. Her eyes stare ahead coolly, taking everything in with an empty expression, arms crossed. She’s patient, letting me revel in it all for a while before she opens her mouth to speak,
“You were a brilliant scientist of your time. It’s unfortunate that between your studies, you were ostracized for your counter-thinking,” The girl remarks casually, pleasant even, almost complimenting. “To go against the herd is difficult and ultimate, lonely. No friends. No family. No romance-“
“Hush you mere child! Romance has no place in the whole scope of things. My work was beyond me, beyond the people I knew- it was for the future of all human kind,” I snap, coming conscious from my blissful memories to chastise the girl. There was no foolishness here. This was where I belonged.
How I longed for it once more…
And suddenly the door rings; short, electrical, and sharp. The warm light throughout my familiar home vanishes without cue. As if night has fallen, everything is drowned in shadows. There are leering monsters in the dark, the same that clawed at the girl before, to keep her in her bitter moment. And this is mine.
“The quest for altruism is a concept played at by good intentions but you forget your conditions,” The girl utters gingerly, coming to my side in the center hallway, moving away from the cold creeping in from the windows, through the boards of the floor, to slide its way toward us. It reeks of malice and ill omens.
“And what are the conditions?” I hasten to ask, curious to hear her thoughts, my eyes drifting to the front door as it rings its haunting hollow buzz.
“You’re human. Life to be so meaningful can’t be all one thing or another. Your efforts are not unnoted, but your memory? It doesn’t live in your work, it’s through the people you let in close,” She says, tender and sweet. “So, did you truly get all that life has to offer? Did you get what you wanted?”
The door rings again at the final words dropped from her lips, bitter. We both turn to the front door, drawn to it, eerie. I feel her hand clasp around mine. She senses the malevolence in the air, the anxiousness through my skin. Drawing her close, in a way thankful that she’s here, I know I don’t want to be alone. The door mustn’t be opened, though no matter how looming, we’re drawn to it. Like the pull I experienced with the girls’ memories, we are adhered to this inevitability, and follow its merciless design. Nervousness scrunching in beneath my skin begs for me to flee, but I near the front door, a firm grip on the girls’ hand.
“I was content with my life. Why should I give in to the dreams of others, follow their path when I am pleased with my own successes even though they are not shared?” I question, my voice lowering with my rapid breathing. The girls’ exhaling matches mine, echoing in the dark that removes the scene of my home, leaving only the shadows and that torturous door. It rings again and our hearts race as one.
“That’s not what I’m meaning, it’s not to convince you that I feel you’re living your life improper, but merely to see from another side,” She doles out defensively, voice like a whisper in my own mind.
“To see from your side,” I say, the girls’ meaning laid bare. And she’ll say nothing more of this, knowing just as I do the irony of the situation. Visiting her memories and now her meeting mine is happiness’ ultimatum. If I had another chance at life, would I follow the course I had run before or would I change the tide, and find pure happiness in another time?
I reach out unconsciously, a lump in my throat, aching dry. This isn’t real, I murmur to myself, but feel the weight of the air sink to a deathly chill. And then I touch the metal of the doorknob. Out through its polished surface, pain jolts through our chest. Our body convulses in place, wobbling before we’re brought down to our knees. We clutch at our chests while burn and ache ransack the memories of who we were and where we’ll be. Blood surfaces, running down our clothes a crimson and ghastly river. With our other hands, our fingers curl around each others, wailing with the pain. And we grasp one another, gripping to our connection, waiting for it to pass. It feels an eternity of nothing but this pain and darkness, holding us here, not wanting us to flee. The memory wants us to suffer. Our true villain wants us to know and remember: we do this to ourselves.
We scream in unison, a great upheaval of emotion. I feel like this will be it. The remaining life and consciousness of ourselves will escape through our open mouths and dissipate into the darkness. This will be our sacrifice for eternal peace, the final strife. But as the last breathe of air escapes us, flying from our lungs, forcing us to lurch forward, we suddenly realize we’re back in the hospital.
The girls’ golden iris’ glimmer ache and meet mine as we huff, desperately pulling in air. I am on my knees over her, staring as she remains lying in her hospital bed, looking up to me. There’s a little relief in both our faces, glad for progress though perhaps it’s just that the nightmare isn’t over. For now however, we’re safe. Our hands are still clasped together, clinging to our unity still until we break, turning our heads quickly as three people stride towards the bed without warning.
One of the persons wears the traditional white doctor coat, looking much older than the other two with dark hair streaked with silver. His entourage are both pale-skinned youths wearing blue garbs, matching one another. ‘Attendings,’ I read from the girls’ mind, both looking drained with forced smiles. The primary doctor skims the medical chart handed to him by the nearest youth.
“Good morning Miss Heather Grahame. I heard you had a rough night last night,” The old man chortles. There are deep lines in the corner of his eyes and a little humor in his tone, but he doesn’t look to the girl. “It shouldn’t be anything to worry about, as it is, your injuries may have been the cause of this.”
The older male pauses for a brief second, his grey eyes neither acknowledging the girl or even the two attendings at his sides. He’s in a world of his own and meets us in brief semi-friendly bursts of speech. Turning a page of the chart, he reads off monotonously,
“Slight head trauma, a few fractured ribs on your left side, a compound fracture of the radius and down to the simple, a sprained ankle.”
Finally he looks away from the sheet and to the girl to put it direct, that thin veil of amiable nature present between him and the cold doctor mentality within in his speech,
“It’s nothing severe and you’ll be fine, but if you are to continue to receive care at this facility, we’ll need a phone number or address to contact your parents or legal guardian.”
“Heather” floats her eyes to me for a second, possibly wondering what I’d think of the name he called her, knowing its falsity. When I give her no inquiries she turns back to the seemingly warm-hearted gentleman. She cannot blame him for the act, knowing the stress of the field. Even at that moment in time, she knew what the doctor was up to.
“I… haven’t seen my parents since I ran away from home…” She starts, head a little hazed still from the sedatives fading from her blood. The mans’ smile disappears, dark eyes narrowing over the girl momentarily before they all together refuse to believe her physical existence again.
“Well, my dear, without mummy and daddies insurance information, there’s nothing more we can do for you,” The cold doctor carelessly tosses the chart to the attending at his left. He is about to give the sleep-deprived doctor in training orders of what to do with Heather, when at that moment in time, a clatter of noises diverts everyone’s eyes to the opened doorway. A chorus of apologies echoes from the hidden hallway, a distinct male voice. It’s silken and accented foreign, different than the voices around us, one that strikes the girl into an anticipated race of flushing blood, I note. Flustered and panting the owner of the poignant speech tumbles into the room. His auburn hair, obviously normally slicked back has come undone in his haste but it doesn’t seem to bother him as his wildly moving grey eyes shift around the room then land on the old doctor.
“Doctor Knowles, for the last time, I said this doesn’t concern you-” He begins when the new face marches toward him quickly, cutting the protest short. The auburn haired male sucks in air through his teeth, recomposing with his hands out to plead with the elder doctor.
“The CT and MRI scans done after her accident not only helped us treat her injuries but also gave us abnormal evidence of an abnormal phenomena. Tell me, in all honesty, that you can just ignore that?” He says in hushed exclamation, wanting to keep this quiet but also enraptured with his discovery.
“This isn’t your department Doctor Knowles, she isn’t your patient nor is this worth bringing to the medial board for research,” The elder doctors’ face begins to run red with anger, waving off the attending with a stern glower of his dark eyes. Knowles remains steadfast in his excitement, keeping close to the elder doctor, his youthful physique a good height against the other, warding him from running away.
“It took three times more than the normal dosage to effectively sedate her. She has a standing temperature of a hundred twenty degrees Fahrenheit with all organs fully functional. Her body is healing at an alarming rate – by the time the surgeons set her arm and went in for another x-ray, they found that the bone was already healing, in fact, that it looked as if nearly a week has passed! This is on the scuff of being outright called a miracle! You can’t be NOT curious of the discovery of the century!”
“Or faulty medical equipment and inept doctors….” The elder doctor intervenes the youngers gusto, muttering below his breath. He continues louder, putting finality to his decision, “Regardless no insurance, no money, no medical care!”
All eyes in the room, nurses, other doctors, the attending and even a few of the conscious patients have turned their curious eyes to the argument just hovering at the foot of Heathers’ bed. She stares to Doctor Knowles in shock and curiosity, cheeks a pale pink. I can feel her heart beat, strong and burning within her chest, and feel its pull to bring me closer to her.
“Then… I’ll pay for her medical expenses,” Knowles announces, standing firm in his belief. He slicks back the loose strands of his hair, shifting his head to look to Heather. He winks, smiling so self-assured. Her heart skips a beat, thumping dangerously as more red travels to her cheeks, eyes glistening wide to take in the moment.
Now I know.
“Oh, I see, how unimpressive. Love at first sight, is that it? Heather?” I eye the girl, watching her refuse to look at me and twirling a few strands of her golden locks in between trembling fingers.
“Julian!” The elder doctor leans in close, trying to not let the others hear though his anger blinds him from the tone, “This isn’t a concern of yours. I know you mean well but this child isn’t a patient of yours, first and foremost. You could get into trouble, I’ve done my best to ignore your past, but this is begging to question your motives. And I definitely won’t be there to be your safety net.”
“Then that’s fine, I understand, but regardless, I’m not going to let such an interesting case pass me by,” Knowles settles with a nod and a heavy breath. His grey eyes dance across the room, making sure order has been reestablished and attention taken from their altercation. The two men conclude, now in soft whispers and then part ways unceremoniously, leaving each other to their tasks. Doctor Knowles remains behind, still at the foot of Heathers’ bed then motions for the attending to give him the chart.
His grey eyes lock with the girls’ for a quick moment before burying them into the papers, scanning quickly but silent. A young brown-haired nurse in a clean-pressed white uniform briskly walks into the room and past his back. The Doctor quickly runs to catch her,
“Nurse, would it be all right if you could bring this young lass some food?”
“Sure thing, Doctor Knowles,” She smiles sweetly, doe-eyed and giggles as he playfully grins to her. I feel a pang of jealousy erupt from Heather but it quickly dissolves as the doctor returns to her bedside, smiling now, just for her.
“Hello little miss, if you couldn’t already tell, my name is Julian Knowles. You can call me Julian if you like, seeing as for the time you’re here, I’ll be your unofficial guardian,” He spouts cheerfully, holding out his hand to hers which she takes, a little meek and shy. Her heart races at this contact but she won’t let him see her blush this time around.
“The other doctor said you’re not an actual doctor?” She asks innocently, completely able to keep her feelings apart from what she finds curious, about why this man is so interested in her.
Julian chuckles sheepishly and nods, “Well I am a doctor. I’m the official psychiatrist of this hospital, but I do know a bit of the medical procedures.”
“Psychiatrist?” Heather and I ask in unison, my own little intrigue spilling forward.
“Er, um, that’s a kind of head doctor. I typically diagnose psychiatric problems like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, like soldiers who return from over seas. I help people..” He points towards Heathers’ forehead, his finger lightly grazing her skin, “Up here.”
“I know what a psychiatrist is… I’m just wondering why you’re vouching… for me,” Heather fumbles with her cast and winces when she tries to move her wrist, throbbing pain still evident.
“Ah, well, that,” Julian begins again, becoming aware at the intellect the girl possess, a little taken back but otherwise seemingly relieved. He pushes Heather’s hand away from picking at the cast and gently places his hand over hers, “The reasons for this is a little more complicated to answer.”
The nurse has returned with a tray holding a bowl of soup and little packages of assorted foods. Julian thanks the nurse as she sets it up for the girl, on her lap with a cup of water poured and given over by the girls’ uninjured limb. When the nurse leaves, Julian turns back to Heather, smiling though obvious in a little rush,
“I want you to eat and get some rest. And in a few hours I’ll explain my interest a bit more, hmm?”
As he is about to leave, Heather calls out to him, “You don’t have to pay for me!”
The doctor generously smiles, shaking his head to the girl that she need not worry about it for now. So addled by differing actions, the poor doctor stumbles unknowingly, knocking into a nurse carrying paperwork. A chorus of apologies echoes again before he finally makes his escape into the hallway and out of our line of sight.
I move down by the girls’ eye level, watching her in a humored expression. Heather hesitates before starting to devour her food. She isn’t sure what to do at this point. Never had such freedom been so conniving, tempting her to stay to bask in her amorous attraction. Curiosity wins the best of her.
“True love? Is this your obsession? You couldn’t be more trite,” I speak, eyeing her warily but she makes no aim toward me until she has finished her meal.
“I’d like it if you wouldn’t read my emotions, or speak for that matter while we’re like this,” She simply states, shoving the tray out of her way.
“As you are in this state, I cannot help if you’re too easy to read,” I return then follow her motions as she carefully makes to stand before anyone will notice her, taking her clothing set on the end-table at her side, cleaned and neatly folded, waiting for her. She warily glances around, making a dash out the room and into the hallway. Her eyes remain open, limping around scurrying doctors and nurses, too engrossed in their tasks to care what the girl is doing. Heather swipes a marker from a distracted doctors’ clipboard and hurriedly moves away, searching for a specific sign posted above the numerous doors placed up and down the corridors.
“I hardly think your obsession resembles mine… The drive perhaps, but definitely not its importance. Advances in science, yes, I’d be by your side, but love? No. Not a fit meaning,” I speak, following her into a nearby lavatory. She shuts the door behind us then pauses, looking over at me. I watch her clutch her clothing to her chest, reading her annoyance.
“Pssh, like anything about your figure in anyway catches my attention,” Scoffing I see the girl furrow her brow and point to the toilet, meaning this moment is private more than her nudity. When I linger she fumes.
“Get out Isaac!” She screeches and out I am pushed by that invisible force back into the hallway, where I have to wait until the hold loosens. From below the door frame light flashes three times, blue and shimmering. A few minutes later, she walks out fully clothed, the denim skirt and pale yellow blouse only specked with dark brown spots. It’s her blood, but none too gruesome, hidden primarily by the sash around her waist and the large furred vest on her back. Only the sleeve covering her casted arm indicates the horror from the day before but she buries it under the other. The cuts and bruises around her face and torso are gone, as well as her limping.
“You rely too much on that magic. Nothing arises without its consequence,” I scold the girl but am ignored as she shuffles through the hallway in soft white patient slippers still. Heather shambles aimlessly through the hallways, the medical staff not minding her as they go about their daily rounds. She eats greedily from food trays meant for other patients, stealing what she can to curb her gnawing appetite, grossly famished from her rejuvenation spells. I eye her in anger, her selfishness and disregard for her fellow living-kind annoys me slightly, but her complete and utter refusal to acknowledge me is my main irritation. Remaining a few spaces behind the girl, I come to understand there is more to this selfish love than I can assume.
“Curiosity holds you to this place… Or more like that man, no?” I speak aloud, trying to engage the girl as much as she infuriates me. “You said this city has become too familiar… And now here’s this face that sets your heart into motion…”
Moving close to her again, I pull the clues from their recesses and string them together,
“This isn’t your first time meeting this man.”
The girl calmly walks in silence, mouth and thoughts sealed to me but not her emotions. I feel the tremor between us and I figure I’m right at the precise nerve I need to hit.
“They say happy memories are so easily forgotten yet painful ones linger and fester,” Starting slowly, I watch Heather, looking for any other cue to the truth she carries.
“You were hurt, weren’t you?”
The girl nears a door, listening to the voices behind it, licking her lips in apprehension. Her heart races as she places a shaky hand on the door knob and flinches back. Heather shakes her head, a tumbling of anxiety flooding the air about her. I watch her run all the way back to her room, lunging for her boots she had neglected to gather still sitting on the floor below the end-table. She digs deep into her boot, reaching for something hidden there.
“Oh, I see, the creature fears what she knows she can’t have!” I prod in exclamation, “You know the moment he sees what you are, he would never look toward you again!”
Heather doesn’t scowl to me, the words useless, I come to see. Instead the girl places a large rolled up sum of money on her beds pillow, quiet and resolute.
“Wait?!” I laugh almost, confused with just what is supposed to happen and how nervous the normally confident girl is, though she bars herself in with her reasons. She turns away, dashing back out of the room just as I call out, teasing,
“No good-byes to your one true love?!”
She runs from me, drops of bitter air in the path left behind. I rush after her, washed in a series of faded hospital recollections. Half shrouded smiling faces and disjointed noises blur with the scene. It is a topsy-turvy hallway where it was normal before. I pass through it and find the girl again around a distant corner. The sounds and visuals resume routine as I gaze at her fallen frame, on the floor with a hand on her wounded side. It burns with its’ internal bruised tenderness, agitated from being knocked into by a careless orderly pushing a cart. The new commotion catches attention of the others roaming the hallway, a rising chatter that calms when the click of a door opens, diverting Heathers’ mild agony.
The door Heather had hesitated at before opens halfway and out pops Doctor Knowles, looking out to see the cause of the noise in the hallway. He exchanges a worried glance to the orderly then to the fallen Heather. The clothing is noted as is the apparent haste of the girl, eager to leave as can be unavoidably understood.
“Excuse me a moment,” He calls into the room and turns his undivided attention to Heather, smiling genuinely to her. “Eager to see me Miss Grahame?”
“I-I’m young,” She stammers, flustered and scrambling for words, “Rest is for the old.”
Julian smiles for a brief second, impressed with the girls’ humor. He turns his attention now to the nurse running up to the scene, the same nurse who had brought Heather food.
“Doctor Knowles,” She pants out, eyebrows scrunched in apologies, “I’m sorry. She must’ve escaped when we weren’t watching.”
“Oh, no harm, she’s not a child after all. I don’t think a young woman would ‘escape’,” Julian chuckles out, helping Heather back to her feet. His friendly grey eyes scan across the young girls’ features, making him stop his next sentence before it even begins. Eyebrows crinkling in he stares to Heather in awe, not understanding the differences between how the girl looked before and now.
“Why?” He pauses once more, studying her for another length, forcing a flush to Heathers’ face as she desperately averts her eyes to keep her calm, “You’re already looking… Better?”
Two orderlies suddenly run up to the doctors’ side, large hands grasping around Heathers’ arms and wrists. They rip her away and in her shock, the girl begins to flail about. Once she begins to fight back, an assisting nurse runs in to quail her thrashing, driving a needle into her skin without another warning.
“That wasn’t necessary!” Julian protests to the nurses.
“Sorry Doctor Knowles, we both know patients shouldn’t be out of bed,” The nurse explains, frowning worriedly and leans in close to whisper, “You didn’t see what had happened last night. We can’t afford to have another incident like that happen while the other patients are awake.”
While she spoke Heather squirms, run down by the claiming sedative but not the least bit put down. She pushes away from the orderlies, gaining ground and launches herself forward, towards Julian. Just before she can meet him, they grab her once more, gripping tightly around her battered waist. She screams in pain and flings her casted arm to the nearest orderly’s face. The blow lands but it only drives the men to cling to her more forcibly.
“Stop it!” Knowles shouts, watching horrified at the scene, looking for a way to cut in between the orderlies and the girl. Heather shrieks then invokes her inner strength briefly, tossing a poor orderly from her with less than little effort. Shocked and stunned, more medical staff run in to help, pushing past Julian’s protest. Another nurse soon joins the fray, rushing in with a needle at the ready, jamming it into the girls flesh the moment she’s able to. At this, finally, the beast of a girl is swayed.
Julian makes one more effort, prying the orderlies off the subdued girl and yelling for the others to stay away. He takes the girl in his arms just before she collapses to the floor, incapable of keeping her balance.
“W-worthless!” She stutters, “You humans will never know what’s beyond your little home…”
She begins to laugh but stops short in a slight cough, holding her side. Heather remarks bitterly, “You’ll all remain worthless if you never change yourselves, unify and toss out those ideals that hold you back. I can’t believe I have to be one of you… With your meaningless wars and short life spans-” She looks in a growing daze toward her ‘guardian’, forgetting her meaning in the haze and smiles, clearly out of her mind and now nearly whispering, “-and your pretty, pretty eyes.”
The girls’ eyes are wide and wandering, the sedative running through her system at full force. As she stares up at Julian in pleasant scrutiny, the light beams direct in her eyes, black pupils large but a definitive golden band around them.
“Your-your eyes…” Knowles mumbles, transfixed to the girl but more out of innocent curiosity than the amorous gaze returning to him through hers. “They’re… Gold?”
And it’s true, the color isn’t a fabrication, and something that I know is hers alone. Heathers’ body may be an illusion to all who peer at her, but her eyes glimmer the same inhuman golden hue. Unnatural yet alluring.
“Yes!” She speaks rather loud, unable to keep her thoughts and levels to herself. Heather struggles to keep the next words out of her mouth to a lower decibel, intending it to be soft and personal, “It’s because I’m not human.”
Julian’s furrowed eyebrows remain rigid for a moment or two as what the girl had said sinks in but they slowly soften. He gives a sudden burst of laughter. The perplexed staff and orderlies find his reaction much more absurd than the intoxicated slurs from the girl. Her confessions seem laughable to them at the sound of Knowles’ humoring acceptance – although she was being truthful.
“So then, what are you?” Julian continues to chuckle, moving to help Heather up and slowly guide her away from the gawking eyes. He plays along with what he figures as a fantastical story.
“There isn’t a name for what I am truly, not in your language,” She begins, pausing while she waivers on unstable legs. And then she stuns the doctor once more, presenting her knowledge quite simply and fluidly, despite the obvious drag on her mind, “The closet example for your kind would be a synapsid, that is, a being with both mammalian and reptilian properties.”
I follow after the two in silence, holding back my comments as I analyze the interaction between them, how she beams to him, enamored while he humors her with pure kindness. Her brutal honesty in that state piques my curiosity and my anticipation builds in waiting for what the girl could possibly say next. I wonder how she met him and how far would she give her truth over. More than ever, I wonder ‘why’.
“Ah hah, much like a platypus?” Julian teases, his expertise quite apparent to not be on her level.
“A what?” She returns, not understanding.
“That would explain a lot about you,” He continues without explaining, smiling sincere if not a little insulting. The girl’s expression is mixed, feeling to be a true foreigner and maybe partially frustrated at not being taken seriously. It’s thrown to the wayside as soon as Heather recognizes where the kind doctor had led her to, back to the room she woke in and to the hospital bed. He gently half carries her to the cot and bades her to lay down onto the bed. To this, the girl refuses.
“No!” She shouts and practically leaps into his arms, “Nope! I’ll never stay in a hospital longer than I have to now. I just won’t!”
“Never?” Julian echoes, a thought brightening in his eyes, “Were you in the hospital a lot before?” He tries his best to set the squirming girl down and away from him but she clings desperately to his arm.
“It’s not the hospital, it’s the white,” She mumbles, giving in and letting him go just to fall to the floor. Her gold eyes squeeze shut momentarily and she shivers lightly. “No, no, not the white, it’s the sterility, it’s the cold. I hated that box…”
“A box?” He reiterates, another clue to mull over, deep in thought for a second. His concern for the girl sparks alongside his curiosity and he makes to ask another question then stops short, changing topic with a mutter, reminding himself, “I have a client waiting.”
Julian stoops down and brings the girl back to her feet, soothing her anxiety with a brush of his hand across her forehead.
“Heather, will you promise me you won’t leave?”
The girl, taken by his soft voice, nods her head exuberantly, her want her sole driving force rather than logic like before when she reasoned to leave. Her eyes gleam with all heart and she whispers out, “I promise.”
“All right little miss, I shouldn’t take too long. I’ll be back here and ready for our little conversation – in fact, you and I can go to the cafeteria and share a dessert. Does that sound good?”
Heather’s face screws and grimaces politely, mumbling carefully to the point it’s unintelligible to the doctor, “I don’t like sweets,” but then nods, changing her humor, no doubt just happy to have an audience with him. Julian doesn’t catch her distaste and smiles, glad to get across to her. He pats the top of her head, reminding the girl briskly to wait for him then takes off out of the room once more, knocking unexpectedly into another doctor and near-avoiding a nurse in his haste.
Heather watches the honest doctor leave, keeping each flicker of image in mind before the space he had walked is removed with any evidence he was actually there. And then her contented smile wanes, eyes drifting down with falling resolve. Her lips are pressed tight and the pain of a knowing mind shakes her.
I wander in closer to her, feeling the tremor and the bubbling turmoil within my own weighted heart. The tale is still unknown to me but I know the outcome is nowhere near favorable. I know there’s truth buried where no living thing dare to peep. Still it is stronger than any emotion brought to us.
“Good-byes are a blade across the tongue, aren’t they?” I ask tenderly, leaning forward to see the scowl bloom across her lips.
“I don’t want to start with you again,” The girl mutters, a glance to her bandaged ankle and then another drifting to my patient stare. To pity her would be unkind; this story is a make of her own.
“Tell me now. Perhaps that will release our bind to one another?” I finally chime in my inquiry, needing the truth as if it were the salve to my own ache. She gets to her feet, brushing past me without reaction, clearly too focused on her current memory. A listless creature, she drags her slippered feet over the linoleum. Drugged still but mind alight with too much to bear, she carefully slides her way into the hallway.
“You’ve met him before, and the farewell wave can’t leave your hand, can it?” I continue and hope to yield an answer in my outward rumination. Heather pays me no mind coasting through the hospital, moving mindless out in between nurses and orderlies who cast their empty stares to her in mild to none interest.
“You’re searching for a clue about that man, something different in how your memory perceives. It’s why you’re here, recalling the last painful moment you saw him,” Prying the girl, I remain impartial as much as I can but feel her torture draw me close. It pulls me to ease my assault. I stay my blade, so to speak, but keep it gripped in my hand. There is one thing I know and it’s how emotion can remove the will to drive the final blade in for the kill, especially when it’s more than necessary. And maybe it will be.
“Sorry my newest patient…” The soft timbre of Julian’s voice omits my last thoughts. His voice catches Heather’s attention too as it fades behind his closing door, the destination the girl was setting for. In exceptional speed she rushes forward, sliding towards the door to catch it with the tip of a finger just before it closes all the way. And when she crouches down to listen another voice plays along to the doctors.
“It’s all right Julian,” says the other, soft and teeming with femininity. It’s an intimate speech, older and wise. Most likely the same age as Julian.
“Well this is important, time is ticking of course,” He returns gently, the same kindness enacted on the woman as it was on him.
“Of course,” She reiterates in a heavy sigh, sounding hurt. Her next words are too faint to be understood and gradually give way to sobs. Then there is a shuffling of movement and curiously Heather looks in to see Julian holding the poor woman in a comforting embrace.
“It will be soon, I have it all planned, you don’t need to worry any longer,” He speaks seriously, gentile and soft. When he pulls back from the woman, her hands clasping and shaking the doctor’s hands, he bares a smile, confident and lovingly.
“You know me Samantha, I can never break a promise.”
The intimacy shared by the two adults sinks Heathers’ heart in a cold pool of loneliness. Outcast and lost, the girl wobbles in her own promise, rethinking once more for what she came to rediscover. I feel her want to shrink away but she hesitates, not sure which pain she’d prefer to meet – either the hurt of inevitability or not trying for what she came to do.
“Julian, you’re a God send,” The woman sniffles and pulls the doctor in close once more.
And that was it. Heather doesn’t want to see anymore. She removes her finger, the door shutting louder than she expected, ringing empty of warmth in her ears. And she sits for a moment in quiet contemplation. Her mind is racked by endless thoughts and the fragile breaking of her heart. She’ll stay, but she doesn’t know why anymore. The sedative in her is still prevalent, numbing her skin, thoughts, and reasons.
“A kind gentleman like him, why would you think he wouldn’t be taken?” I speak quietly but hear her scoff. Her head rocks back and forth, my thoughts mistaken. Heather still won’t give me the words though a grim smile presents itself on her lips. She bars me from further questioning. By now though, I won’t fight her for this.
And we wait, watching the people move through the hospital, assigned to their daily tasks. The living, making sure they all continue forward into time, to the edge of humanities future. Illness, though it cuts down the most fortunate of man, doesn’t reign supreme. Accidents can be averted, wounds healed. And they’ll all survive through this all, beings of great promise – something that I have no doubt Heather believes in. Still, here she is, unable to keep her own survival in her grasp, choosing to remember what she can’t bear. And for all this, I can see merit in her as well.
The door opens and out steps the woman, long-legged, pale-skinned and hourglass shaped. She wipes her red-rimmed eyes with a pastel pink handkerchief, lips turned down, mulling her beauty into a stunning tragedy. Her eyes drift down toward Heather, who drowsily meets her stare in equal ache. And the woman feigns a pleasant grin before briskly taking her leave, her heels clicking in perfect movement.
There’s nothing about her that Heather doesn’t envy, I can sense it in her stare. The girls’ left arm aches and throbs in time with her heart, pumping acid through her veins. And now she’s glad she isn’t that poor beautiful woman.
I wonder why.
Julian soon appears from the room, door opening and his young mans’ face coming forth. He watches as the woman disappears from view, slicking back his hair, strain evident in his movements. After a brief moment, he finally looks down to Heather, noticing she’s there and also not entirely surprised. He sighs, not exactly one of disappointment, but of exhaustion, of tasks never ending. The caring doctor gives the girl a sincere smile.
“Little Miss Grahame, you’re just on time,” He chuckles pleasantly and holds out a friendly hand. Heather takes it dismally, giving in though I can feel her racing pulse, thoughts in her eyes, wanting to flee. She keeps her mouth shut as he escorts her into his office. I follow after the memory, the hallway to my back fading into blinding white just as the door closes.
“Have a seat,” Knowles suggests, bringing forward a rouge leather armchair to the center of the room in front of his large dark wood working desk.
Around this room each shape is clear in its recollection, prominent to only the doctor there and the girl alone. From the multitude of medical tomes on inset shelves to the trinkets in between, each sit in Heathers’ honorable memory. Statuettes of marble, metal and plaster, depicting the human brain or of great scientists of the past sit in repose on shelves, waiting to be touched, to be remembered. Some pieces are gifts, I figure from the way they sit solitary, in each of their own special places, little puzzle boxes and pewter decorations, given from loved ones or persons close to the doctor, people he no doubt aided. His great desk is stacked with papers, bound or loose, facing the high backed plush chair, still skewed from when he sat in it last. The blinds behind the chair are drawn closed, but light maintains its hold in this sacred place. With their backs to Heather, two picture frames sit on the desk, glinting the sun from their sharp silver edges. The girl stares intently at them, as if they’ll turn toward her the longer her eyes remain, to remind her of something I haven’t figured out yet, something that I know will be cutting.
“So how do you feel? You weren’t too hurt from earlier?” Julian asks, moving around to sit in his chair, picking up a pen and a pad of yellow paper. He waits for Heather to speak but when she doesn’t he writes something down and changes his topic,
“You ran away from home? Is this true? What were your parents like?”
Heather fiddles with her cast, looking so small in that armchair, sinking into it’s cushions. Her head is bent forward, eyes downcast. There’s nothing she can think of to say, nothing that would lead the conversation to what she needs to say but can’t without scaring him away.
“You were so talkative earlier. What’s wrong little miss?” Julian asks friendly, standing now to near the girl, the pen and paper left on the desk. He stoops down to meet Heather’s eyes, level to level though her stare diverts quickly. She licks her lips.
“That woman…” Heather starts, purposely sounding innocent though the intent is obvious to my ears. It’s difficult to render into words. I can feel the uneasiness rising in her belly.
“Ah, oh, her? That’s an old friend of mine,” The doctor gives, genuine smile forming, happy to oblige in hopes of learning more of the girl. “I’m helping her sister through a tough time. What about her?”
“She…” Heather stumbles out, voice breaking halfway through. What she tried to say was, ‘she can wait’, but the innocent doctor can’t hear it. The girl clenches her cast in pain at the torment coursing through her heart. What she wants to say, can’t be said.
“She’s pretty, that’s all.”
Julian laughs, not noticing or not making it evident to the girl, at the choke in her sentence, at the obvious truth evaded. He pulls the girls’ hand away from the cast and softly admits,
“You’re already pretty yourself, little miss.”
Heather turns to Julian suddenly, eyes widening, something she reads as she scans the doctor up and down. I can’t see what she sees but what I feel is the growing anticipation burbling within the girls’ blood.
“I don’t have any parents,” She finally speaks, voice full of clarity. “They’re long since dead as far as I know.”
“Well someone must’ve taken care of you,” Julian intervenes, ushering still to keep the conversation moving but gentle to not frighten the girl.
“I suppose they did…” She begins after a pause, thinking gingerly, her eyes turning vacant as the memories wander past her in a flash of images. I, as well, see them, darting across my vision, and I see this is all true. That’s what she’s giving him. Utter truth.
“They let me become one of them, since I don’t have a home anymore.”
Julian watches as Heather sits unblinking for a moment, the girl lost in her own memories, in the reason for her amorous obsession to this man. The doctor worriedly shakes her shoulder. Slowly her gaze returns to his grey eyes and her heart skips a beat, a tremor in its wake, moving now through me as well.
“They? Like an orphanage?” He inquires.
“You could call it that…” Heather concedes, disheartened, glancing toward me, my first acknowledgement in a while.
Julian shifts, changing his topic again with a careful shaking breath. His voice lowers, calm for the girl, speaking as blunt and amicable as possible, “The other staff told me you did something last night. Do you recall what it was?”
Heather’s head moves back to Julian, stern and restless.
“No,” She lies.
“Dissociative…” Julian begins to mumble, springing back to his feet, a hand to his chin and eyes miles away. He moves around to the other side of his desk, moving to write something down with that pen and yellow pad.
“I’m not crazy,” Heather interrupts, halting the doctor in his scribblings. She shrinks within herself quickly after her outburst, feeling misinterpreted and ashamed.
“No one said you were,” Julian affirms, finishing his writing and tosses his pen down again. When he moves back to the girl, coming close, Heather begins to involuntarily shake.
“Did someone tell you that you were?”
“I said I wasn’t, that means even if someone did, I didn’t believe them!” She shoots back nearly instant, voice high in rising frustration. There’s a fire in her eyes, pain on her trembling lips, and rage clenched between her teeth. Julian carefully analyzes Heather’s behavior, knowing her agitation but proceeding further with another question,
“You said some things earlier, do you remember them?”
I feel the stress build within, like bile, coming to toss out any level reasoning. She does her best to remain civil. Defeated, she mutters near to venomous, “Yes.”
“And do you believe it all to be true?” He wonders, intent so pure but he doesn’t know where he has mistread.
“That you’re worthless?” She growls, grabbing at her cast again, wanting to rip it off – it was a symbol of all that was broken, shielded sure but still ruined deep within. “Worthless humans, plundering through the dark, still wrapped in your petty squabbles, priorities skewed – is that what you want to know?”
Her teeth are bared, nails raking down the plaster, coming away in shavings and threads. Those golden irises are shimmering intense. Julian backs away from the girl, hopefully sensing danger, to give the devil girl room. He furrows his brows, deep in thought, possibly feeling as if he has crossed the line. Curiosity gets the best of him and he doesn’t restrain to ask more of the girl.
“Do you think you’re not human?” He persists, taking another cautious step further toward the front door. He opens the door just a crack and motions to a passing orderly.
“Think? No, I know it’s true, I am not human,” Heather speaks, slowly standing, eyes trained to the doctor. In an instant I feel her true self pour though – fire, brimstone and all the ghoulish things that I knew her to be. “Are you blind? Can’t you see? Or are you all truly hopeless?”
Julian has his back to the girl as she speaks and turns just as she pauses again, now standing right before his eyes. She is inches from him, coming up to hardly his chest with all this menace in her eyes. The doctor gasps in shock, alarmed but recomposing quickly. When he shuts the front door, he attempts to coax her down with a smile.
“Little miss, it’s okay. I don’t think you’re crazy. I’m here to help you, remember?” He soothes to the best of his ability, setting a hand on her cast as he’s done before, trying to comfort. Heather hits the doctors hand away without speaking, diverting her eyes to the floor.
“It’s not okay,” She mutters below her breath, this time finally heard by the innocently frightened doctor.
“I’m your guardian now, little miss, no one will call you crazy any longer, I can promise you that,” He reassures the girl, but he doesn’t know that everything about him now boils something dark and terrible beneath her skin. Where all her love and starry eyed gazes to him before carried her forward to do whatever she set out to do, now it’s turned to bitter resentment.
“Liar,” she whispers just as the door creaks open once more and in pokes the head of an orderly.
“Did you need some help Doctor Knowles?” He asks, oblivious to the tension still mounting in the air.
“Oh, no it isn’t a problem,” Julian says a moment too late. Heathers’ decision has changed and now all she wants is for all this to end. Suddenly the doctor is thrown against the wall, small hands clasped around his neck. Heather has given in to her own madness, crossing that fabled fine line between love and hate.
Even I couldn’t feel it at first, then a wave of rage engulfs me. I fall to the floor at the weight, the heat itself and the dismal backlash it’s sure to give. From my vantage I watch as the orderlies rush and pull Heather’s hands from the gasping doctor. She thrashes violently, screaming his deceit, of the torment he’s given her, of what he promised her and never came through. His eyes are wide, clothes and hair a mess. We both stare in unbelievable amazement of the girls’ darkness, deep within her pained eyes – the inner demon. From those golden irises that poor shaken doctor can only see the horror he has caused. It’s plain to see, yet he can’t recall how exactly it’s his fault. Summoning her true strength the ruined girl flings the orderlies from her effortlessly, against those precious tomes and keepsakes, across the desk. Everything clatters or breaks, each piece knocked out of their altars. And those pictures finally turn to her, revealing the truth in each permanent moment.
It’s his family. It’s that woman. Samantha and her sister, and undoubtedly Julian, much younger than he is now. It’s that version of him that Heather knows. It’s that version of Heather from his youth that he can’t recall.
The commotion comes to an abrupt stop. In fact the whole scene has shifted from the flurry and noise. Time has stalled, the memory paused. I carefully pick myself from the floor, feeling all that anger wash from me in each shaking step. Moving to the girl, I see the remorse in her eyes, feel the bitter ache in her heart.
“I know it’s true,” She says finally, looking toward me, shivering vulnerable. As I stare at her however, waiting for what her next careful words are, I know there’s nothing of her that’s so meek, even this human. This love. This devotion for Julian.
“They left me in the Rift, I’d be deluded to not see that. And maybe that’s why this is so important to me,” Heather gives, pausing as the pain of her heart racks in its cage, thumping so vicious against her chest. It feels as if it’d burst loose. I find myself reaching to where my own heart would still be if I were alive.
“He’s the only thing that feels like true freedom,” She concludes, that ache tunneling through the ghostly fibers of my being. Each particle swimming through the great ether between us resonates, harmonizing. It takes all my strength to rip myself from the sensation, to keep myself whole.
“Foolish,” I mutter numbly but the word doesn’t match the pull, our unified souls. Our unified sufferings.
The memory continues.
Heather stumbles, tears suddenly pouring from her eyes, cascading down her plump cheeks as if a dam had run over. She looks to her hands and trembles, bewildered with her own temper. Looking up to her poor guardian she goes to mouth her apologies but instead is restrained. Brought to the floor the orderlies grip onto her arms and legs. She doesn’t fight this time around, submitting in confessing humility. They subdue her once more with another dose from a needle thrust into her neck, the contents emptied entirely.
Her eyelids droop low, pupils wide and gleaming with draining tears that won’t cease their fall. Sound begins to fade, of heavy footsteps and agreeing voices. Soon the edges blur, light skimming through incoming darkness, like that silver beam cutting through the night. And we see no more.
“Doctor Knowles, this isn’t a psychiatry hospital. People to her degree can’t be held here,” a voice speaks in the wavering light, deep and authoritative.
“We’re transferring her to Fairview Psychiatry Hospital in the morning. We’ve done the paperwork and if you still wish to be her temporary guardian, we’ll keep your contact information written. If you don’t want to anymore, it’ll be understood.”
“No, no, I’ll do it…” Julian’s voice is low and grave, coming in from the cracks. He sounds nearby, somewhere in the shadows and the misshapen streaming lights surrounding us. Heather has pulled me in again, our hearts intertwined and sensations winning us over in the faded memory of drug induced trance. We go to move and feel tragic coldness against our skin. Our wrists and ankles are restrained, holding us down though it’s only an accessory now, the drug a more bitter shackle than anything tangible.
‘Could it be truly changed? Is this impossible?’ these thoughts race through our mind, keeping us tamed, grasping for the will to keep fighting. The lights flicker and the shadows roar. We feel a warm hand cradling ours, a remaining sensation that blinds in this cold tomb we’ve brought ourselves into. To grasp it back is all we need to do, to graze over that skin and remember the texture and never let go, not again, not ever. All we need is one movement but the will is fleeting, sinking away with that silver beam.
‘Do we fight one more time? Can we handle the inevitable once it comes? Will we hold that terrible bleakness, use it as fuel to power us to try again?’ These questions bring a grin to my ethereal lips, a humor springing from my mind. What I thought is what was true, but depth was all I lacked. Here I see it. This is where I understand this girls’ unrelenting passion for torture so sweet. In this memory, I uncover the core of obsession, its poisonous addiction.
It’s dark before we can see clear, before the numbing toxins have faded and coherent cognition can resume. In our solitary prison, a room for only us, hiding us from the other patients, we were left. The lights are out, the warmth of decoration doused in blue. There isn’t a sound to be heard of life until a low rumble comes in from the outdoor world, from the high barred windows at our back. Lightning flashes, a thunderstorm rolling to greet us and lend its ominous ambiance.
Heather rips her limbs from her restraints, one by one. The leather and metal pull and dig into her skin but give way. Under her, the bed creaks and groans, releasing her in fighting compliance. Now is the door, latched and barred to keep her contained. The lightning flashes and she screams, frustration and determination fueling her. She barrels into the door, her stationary enemy.
The thunder roars in time with her movements, twisting and bending the door from it’s lock, from the fragile hinges that give way in a matter of seconds. On bare feet we run, through the hospital hallways, the cold sterile air rushing into our lungs. It wants to slow us down, make us reel from the poison.
We knock over the nurses, dodging the orderlies, letting them fade into the ether behind us. Their seams bleed their ink, colors running to black. They lose form and burst into splotches in the white emptiness behind us. Those trails snake their path towards us, clawing to resume their form. Much like those shadow hands whose existence depend on her complacency, they need her to remain, but that’s not where she’ll ever stay. Over and over, I have no doubt, she’ll break from the frames that yearn to stifle everything into picture perfect tragedies.
“Again and again and again…” I muse from my recesses, calling out to the girl in fondness for her persistence, commending affectionately with a smile on my face. “Is that what this is, one of many trials? My dear, you ask me to see from your side but how when all that makes you bleed you cover before I see the red?”
“This isn’t a trial you pest of a ghost!” The girl roars, pushing me from her mind, out into the chaos of her memory. Onto my feet, I am given no other choice but to follow the girl out into the pouring rain of the night. The rain is warm, burning in lucid recollection. Great droplets fall from the sky, gathering in puddles, soaking into Heathers’ clothing that she gives no mind. Her golden eyes shimmer inner rage, glowing fierce in the frame of her yellow hair. She looks to be on fire, staring at me across the spance of recollected pavement.
“This is life, my life,” She snarls defensively, trailing as the story becomes clear, opening me to all that she has seen and lived. In her minds eye, I see it all, each glimpse of her memory, of the other paths she has created. Blonde, red-head, or dark-skinned – she was it all, everything and anyone, all bright eyed and all her. Memories brush against me, scents and sensations pulling themselves through. Winter. Summer. This city and many others, build before my eyes. There’s the crunch of autumn leaves below my feet. There’s a scent of an ocean on a breeze. From bright sunny days and cold winters – enveloping so many terribly special memories, sad moments and cherished ones – it all invades my aching heart. I say nothing to this, waiting as finally, after all this, she concedes.
“A thousand times, it feels,” Heather speaks once more but now tragic and true, a being now a part of me, much as I am a part of her. “A thousand times, I’ve seen him die.”
Heather knows where to go. Absent of any other hesitation, she runs. Through pedestrians the girl carves her path with nothing capable of stopping her. Weaving through traffic, cars nearly missing Heather as she darts through grimy alleyways and across crowded streets. The cast on her arm becomes sogged, coming undone little by little. Her hair is matted and has wrapped itself around her neck and arms like blonde webbings over her. Her blouse is pasted to her like an extra layer of skin. The denim skirt’s dye runs down her legs, sore from the rough pavement. Soaked through, Heather doesn’t let any of that bother her, moving to the stoop of the single story home, looming before her, outlined by a blackened sky and rumbling thunder.
She reaches the door, standing under the small refuge of the roof, away from the rain and illuminated by the comforting orange glow of the lantern lit above her head. Cautiously she rings the doorbell, only once, and waits. Out of breath, her heart skips its crucial beats as the anticipation builds. At last she hears the lock turn, her mind running away with her thoughts, all the critical words she needs to say.
“Hello?” The door opens a crack before it’s thrown open completely. Julian stares, amazed, baffled and a tint of horrified. His doctors’ coat is gone, shirt untucked and shoes off; he didn’t expect the girl at all.
At her name she sobs uncontrollably, not just because of seeing him again but also because it isn’t true. It isn’t hers. Overtaken, she leaps at him before he can move away and hangs from his shoulders. Kissing his lips ever so softly, she ignores his reluctance, his shock. He staggers from the girls’ sudden weight, bringing him forward, bending to her pull. When she finally gives distance, the befuddled doctor eyes her carefully.
“Y-you shouldn’t be here,” He starts with a stutter, anxiousness rising. When he swallows a deep breath, he moves quickly to shut the door in the girls face, but she’s faster. Heather catches the door, letting herself into the jittering doctors’ home without any further fight. She closes the door behind them. And they’re alone, completely. Her wet hair drips into her eyes, stinging, and the dye stains the plush white carpet with specks of blue, but all of that is unimportant. Heather draws near again, almost forcibly, and leans up to kiss him once more, compelled to keep him close
The doctor seems outwardly calm, enraptured by the girl who so innocently and wordlessly is giving herself over to him. Timidly he tries to pull himself from another of her kisses but she has him, her uninjured hand running though his auburn hair. For a second, between a breath Julian pleads, hardly able to resist the girls’ affections. They kiss tenderly, as if they are lovers who haven’t seen each other in ages – as if he can remember her, knew the alternate timelines the two shared. Love crossing the boundaries of time.
“You have to listen to me very carefully Julian,” The girl starts with shaking breath, breaking from the intimacy with reluctance. Heather fumbles cautiously through the words in her mind. She picks apart what she can say though no matter how she can phrase it, subtlety is lacking. The doctor takes in short shallow breathes, moving back, away from her.
“You found my address… at the hospital?” He asks, too concerned with the girls’ very presence than the words coming from her mouth. Heather ignores his inquiries, her eyes locked to his, doing her best to remain composed.
“I am not human,” She explains softly and sees the doctors’ expression crinkle inwards momentarily, confused and lost as to what she’s telling him. And then she says carefully, “I won’t hurt you, I’m here to help you.”
“Wha-what?” He wonders out-loud, flabbergasted with her confession.
“I could explain it all to you if I had the time,” Heather tells in a breath, nerves rattling. Her fingers twitch and she moves her casted hand up to edge of her collar, pulling her necklace forward to toy with it apprehensively. “For now, you must trust me.”
“I don’t have time for this Heather, I have a meeting. You should leave,” He advises, unconsciously keeping his distance from the girl, eyes nervously darting from her to the front door.
“I know you want to put your family first, but this time you can’t,” She says carefully, voice a soft coaxing. “Trust me, everything will be fine as long as you do as I say.”
“Go now, please before it’s too late,” He returns, shaking his head in disbelief.
“I know you’ll find this absolutely absurd, but I know you,” Heather speaks, voice losing its strength as she struggles with the words, “And I love you.” She confesses and trembles, both excited and pained. To this, the poor bewildered doctor says nothing, letting a torturous silence drift in between the two.
“Show him,” I goad, seeing the will to listen fade in the other mans eyes. “Even if he doesn’t believe, if you make him-“
“I’ve done everything I could, everything possible, don’t you understand?” Heather cuts, eyes flashing to me her pain and anger. “Why do you think I’m here? Why do you think I’ve done this?”
The intensity spilling from the girls eyes renders my mind mute. I say no more, thrown to the maddening quiet, and watch her disgruntled eyes return to the memory.
She stands shaking in unavoidable rage, watching the man sigh and his mouth move to talk, trying to find his words. He wants her gone, but she refuses and he reads that nothing he says will get her to go. So his hands fall behind his back and out he pulls a small blue-metal pistol, aiming toward her with shaking limbs. Its glaring image could startle anyone, just not this girl.
She was waiting for it.
“Do it,” Heather demands, rushing forward to take his hand, the barrel of the gun, and put it deliberately at her forehead. Her gold eyes are unwavering, watching his in crumbling anticipation. He won’t pull the trigger. Instead she rips the pistol from his hand, taking a few steps back. She sends him a small smirk and braces herself for the pain.
“Stop! Heather!” Julian shouts in alarm, seeing the girl place the gun to her own temple, finger on the trigger. And she pulls it.
There’s a hollow click and then nothing. Heather is beyond shocked, eyes snapping wide, moving to the weapon. She hits the release switch, the ammunition chamber rolling free into her other hand. It’s empty. That’s never happened before. The one time she chose to use the pistol on herself, to come clean and make him see… And it’s empty?
Is fate always a few steps ahead of her? Preparation truly means nothing?
Julian takes her distraction as an advantage, running forward and slapping the gun from her trembling hands. Instantly he grabs her shoulders, shaking her violently.
“What are you thinking?!” He shouts frantically, then beyond comprehension, he takes her into his arms, crushing her to his chest. Heather stiffens before melting, raising her hands to wrap them around the doctors neck, falling to crying once more. And he holds her there for some time, softly whispering apologies and for his forgiveness from her.
Taken by her devotion, Julian kisses Heathers’ cheek, then her forehead, leaning in to her lips even, but stops. Standing near I watch quizzically as Heather moves her glassy eyes to the man, wondering, as I do, of what is transpiring in the doctors’ head. She bites her lip as he shifts back, his eyes darting back and forth, gauging the girls’ reaction and thinking inwardly on himself. He brushes her bangs from her skin, his hands holding her still, watching the girl tear up and shake from the mere contact.
“You don’t believe me, do you?” Heather speaks finally, a small painful gasp, letting her arms drop from his neck.
“Heather,” Julian begins, voice coming uneven from a pressing smile, “You’re an exceptional young miss. Strong, I can see that. Whatever happened to you, know that it’s in the past, leave it there-“
“You have to believe me-” She intervenes to protest, tears welling at the corner of her eyes but he cuts her off with a stern glower, his voice rising to make his command clear.
“I can help you, and I will, but you have to return to the hospital, you need to be patient, and I’ll be there for you. I promise,” Julian tries his best to keep the girl calm, hands moving to her face to wipe away her tears. A small nervous smile creeps across his lips, seeing the girl, and feeling her warmth. “Now please leave, Heather, I need you to do this for me.”
She stares to him, mouth open, grasping for any other remaining words. When Julian stands upright, her heart pounds achingly. And the doctor points to the front door, reiterating for her his demand in pleasant authoritative speech. Heather shakes her head, keeping her ground but now a cold air permeates the room.
This is how she remembers it.
The doorbell rings and in me I feel the familiar tremor, our unification. It’s our distaste for that echoing tone. Julian’s head snaps to the door, worry growing across his features.
“It’s too late now,” The girl says, defeated more or less but not ruined to fight again. The doctor darts his widening grey eyes to the girl then back to the ringing door, another chime sending shivers through our spirits.
He sets into action, lifting his gun from the floor and putting it back into the waist of his slacks. Turning to Heather, he puts a finger to his mouth meaning silence. Julian motions for the girl to go into the kitchen, to hide. She listens to him, moving to remain out of sight, but it’s clear she deems it useless. From her vantage point, hiding behind a counter, concealed by shadows, the girl can only see the doctor from the chest up. She watches Julian cautiously go to the door and then open it.
“Doctor Julian Knowles,” Says a gruff, thickly accented voice.
“I called. I explained I would be a pushed a bit late. You didn’t have to come so soon,” Knowles explains but the man at the door sighs and chastises with a tsking through his teeth.
“You shouldn’t keep your clients waiting, especially in life or death situations,” The voice says, out of sight.
“I ah-pologize,” Stammers the doctor. “I’ll get my things, then we can be on our way.”
Julian motions for the man to enter his home with a courteous smile and a nervous twitch. Soon the living area of the doctors’ home is packed with several garish men, all dressed in dowdy colors and fabrics. Save for the initial man, ahead of the pack, smaller than the rugged others, older with thinning shining black hair. This man wears a fine tailored suit, a grey-blue, with a teal button-up shirt beneath, the top button undone however and without a tie or any sort.
Five men in total stand waiting for the doctor as Julian rushes into an adjacent hallway, towards his bedroom and office. They stand in silence. Only the smaller man moves, careening his attention across Julian’s homestead, making mental notes. When his eyes sweep across, glancing into the kitchen, Heather ducks, submersing herself back into the shadows. She sits and listens. Waiting.
“A doctor of humble taste in home and style,” The leader speaks, voice booming to reach Julian’s ears somewhere at the back of the house. “I’d imagine, on top of your career, your extracurricular activities would yearn a larger revenue.”
“Ah, well, that’s- That’s more complicated,” Julian cries, voice distant but clearly audible.
Heather eyes the shadow at her back, stretching to the cabinets opposite of her, following it’s movement. She remains utterly still until she hears the distinct shuffle of footfalls drawing near. Her eyes wander to the shadow line, the split between the carpeted living room and the tiled floor of the kitchen. With a heavy breath, she moves into a crouching position, pulling further back. Her casted hand hits the stoves front, the back of the kitchen cove. The only option to flee the kitchen would be to climb onto the stove and move into the dining room, but that would leave her exposed. And even if she managed to escape to the other side, where would she go then?
“I’m not one for extravagance to begin with, and I certainly feel it’s wise to operate in, as they say, low profile,” Julian’s voice sounds, loud once more as he crosses back into the living room. Heather hears those footfalls turn, moving away, and she lets out a soft, grateful, sigh. And then her eyes jump up to the half-wall dividing the kitchen from the dining room and the figure there staring back at her with dark unsuspecting eyes.
“Sir, back here,” says the man in a low churning voice.
The kitchen lights flicker on, Heathers’ eyes darting to the ceiling then behind her, the man with the shining hair stands peering over at her. He smiles, hands in his slack pockets and turns an impressed stare to Julian.
“Why, Doctor Knowles, I didn’t know you had exquisite taste in women also!” The man beams, shoulders bouncing as Julian walks into view.
“Sir, she-” He tries only to be hushed with a gentle nod of the man’s head and a waving of his thick knuckled hands.
“No, no, no need to explain, but really you should’ve saved her for when the business was over. The boss hates tardiness and in his condition, his patience is even thinner.”
“I-I understand sir,” Julian says without contest, sweat forming on his brow as he darts his gaze to Heather then back to the man. “If you’ll bear with me a second more, I’ll bring the papers here and go over them with you now.”
“No, no! Nonsense, this isn’t the way we do business,” The leader purses his lips into a humoring grin. “You get your papers, and we’ll go to a suitable place. Come, let’s go.”
“Sir, what about the girl?” Interjects the man from the dining room as his leader is about to turn away from the kitchen.
“Oh, of course bring her with us,” He says, laughing lightly. Julian obviously opposes, jolting forward slightly to intercede.
“Sir, she’s impartial to this-“
“It’s all right young Doctor, there’s plenty of space in the car for her. Don’t worry!” The leader tosses out playfully, waving him away once more then holding his hand out for Heather.
“Come on my darling, I’m sure you haven’t seen luxury in a car like this!”
His hand outstretched, Heather can do nothing but accept, getting to her feet as he leads the way back into the living room. Julian turns rigidly, left to his own devices, running to procure his papers. As they exit the front door, the leader smiles to Heather, wide and toothy.
“How old are you little one?” He inquires.
“Fourteen…” She mutters, eyeing him carefully before turning backwards, making sure Julian is following. Her stare meets his, a pure unfiltered mask of worry over the poor doctors’ face.
“A wonderful age!” The leader muses, reflecting on himself for a moment or two while the door to a black polished vehicle is opened. “Our young Doctor Knowles certainly knows a blessed age for a girl.”
Laughing more to himself, the man lets Heather into the vehicle first, then climbs in as well, sitting by her side. The door is shut and for a few brief moments, the girl looks around the interior of the vehicle, all shine and glinting, with a strong scent of permeating leather. Soon the door at Heather’s other side is opened and in sits Julian so that now she’s sitting between the doctor and the other man.
Silence instills for another apprehensive second before the vehicle lurches into motion. The leader flickers his eyes to Heather, a dark pool of blue, of treacherous tales that shouldn’t be told. This is someone she knows she should fear. It’s who Julian hangs in the balance against.
“Now darling, how did you and Doctor Knowles meet?” He inquires casually, leaning back in his seat to see the girl completely. His hand is still on hers.
“At the hospital I work at. She had an accident-” Julian begins only to be hushed by the man with an expression of distaste. He wants Heather to speak.
“It was an accident,” She starts with a clearing of her throat, pulling back her hand from the strangers carefully. Her eyes move to her knees as she continues, “I fell from a building. It was five stories up.”
Heather’s eyes flicker towards Julian, meeting his terrified stare and furrowing brow, as she finishes softly, “I thought I was going to die, but Julian saved me.”
“Now isn’t that a tender story!” Exclaims the man, leaning forward to cast unbelievable stares to Julian. “A true hero aren’t you, young Doctor?”
He lets out a great guffaw, slapping at his knee as he chortles this over a little more. His hand lands on Heathers’ again, fingertips on the skin of her thigh. The leader smiles to the girl, intrigued with her story and the doctors’ connection to her.
“Darling, do you know your dear doctor saves people’s lives out of the hospital too?” He asks her, hand sliding further to touch her leg. Julian interjects timidly, meeting eyes with the black-haired leader.
“Sir, I don’t think she needs-“
The doctor is tossed into silence quickly, the leaders’ hand jumping up from the girls’ thigh to hit Heather across her cheek. She gasps, caught off guard and teeters slightly back, onto Julian. Her face stings, hand coming up to touch the heat. The doctor is wide-eyed, swallowing hard any of his remaining words. He grasps the girl, a hand to her shoulder instantly to hold her steady and away from the other man. The two passengers stare at the black-haired leader and remain quiet, watching his flash-sudden glower resume a large hosting grin.
“There’s no need to be humble. For whatever reason you began this business, you’re saving a great deal many lives that wouldn’t have much of a chance in the system of red-tape and pre-requisites,” The black-haired leader praises, turning now to face forward with a slight chuckle. Rolling to a stop, the vehicle has reached its destination.
The leaders’ door is opened and he gets out, this time not bothering to help Heather, his charity gone for her. Julian climbs from the vehicle from the other side with Heather in tow. The towering men from before encircle the two, following their leader into a large three story building of grey stone, unmarked. Its darkened windows reflect the beams of streetlamps, of light bouncing from puddles in the vacant parking lot. There is no one else here to see them, the scene all around a blanket of darkness as if removed from its place on Earth and set into the blankness of space. They’re in the enemies hands.
The front door is opened for the leader by two of his men, and they all enter the building with a ruckus of slick squeaking footsteps and shuffles. Marching through painted stone corridors, lights blink on overhead, ghostly pale blues. And they pass empty adjacent hallways and rooms, open to black, absent of doors. Finally as they turn a corner, stepping through an arching two-man doorway, they come to a stop in a fairly large chamber, echoing with its corners hidden in shadows. The room is filled with piles of bricks, wooden planks, materials and tools for construction that have long since been abandoned. This is where this man and his cohorts conduct their business.
Placed in the center of stacked crates and tools is a bureau, a great office space made and adorned with leisure amenities. There is a chair for the desk, a lounger and a table set with a radio for music. The leader turns on foot at the edge of a sprawling Persian rug, swinging around to face Julian and Heather, hands outstretched and a large encompassing grin on his face.
“There, much better yes? An office is a true place to conduct business, don’t you think?” He speaks, waving off the large brutish men to stand away some. They take their places behind Julian and Heather, two at the door they had just come from, one at either side of their leader and the last standing between them.
“Go ahead Doctor Knowles, tell me, have you found a match?” The black-haired man nods, laying back in his seat.
“I-I have searched through all the proper channels and found a few candidates, ah, looking specifically for one that would be the best match,” Julian quickly barges forward, eyes darting to the folders he was carrying. He stutters out, “I h-have narrowed it down to one,” all while flipping through his papers trying to find the correct forms.
“Perfect! Then we can go about finalizing all of this and be ready tomorrow for shipment,” The man exclaims, clapping his hands.
“B-but, sir,” Julian starts again without a pause, scrambling still with his papers, “Sir, with the state that your boss is in, though still grave in its own way, he can wait another week.”
“So? What’s your point Doctor Knowles? The sooner the better, is what they say, yes?” The black-haired man speaks, eyebrows furrowing.
“Ah, well yes, but sir you see, that, ahm, organ is already queued for another patient,” Julian says trailing, eyes still in the throes of searching for the proper papers. “I-I…” He stammers and fails. Heather darts her eyes to Julian just as he drops the forms in his panicking haste. The two crouch, picking up the sheets and just before they move to get back up again, the girl grabs the doctors’ wrists. With her fingers digging into the skin through fabric of his shirt, she stares deep into his eyes, unblinking. Heather licks her lips, mouth moving, words hidden but the meaning there. She says, ‘don’t.’ Julian stares at her lost on what to think.
“Forget the someone else,” the man speaks, smile fading, his sharp mouth edges pulling down into a wide and terrible scowl.
“I-I understand sir,” Julian speaks, imploring. Heather lets him go and the two return to upright posture fully. “Sir, I’m going by urgency and as I said, your boss can wait a few more days without the transplant. There’s no need to worry though, I’ve already been searching for another candidate so it shouldn’t be too long.”
I watch the leader stare down to the doctor from the bridge of his nose, brooding and displeased. The look on Heathers’ face is defeat now and her golden eyes move to mine in aching omens. The doctor would’ve never believed her if she told the truth, if she told him what she knew. Either way, no matter what she said or done before, it all would have trickled down to this moment. Now all that is left is finicky luck.
The guardsman between Heather and Julian springs into action, kicking out the doctors’ legs then landing a bruising blow to his back. On his hands and knees, the papers are scattered, Julian takes a shaking breath. The man then delivers a swift kick to the underside of the doctors’ ribs, knocking out the air and limbs carrying him until he’s flat and gasping for breath on the cemented floor.
Heather lunges forward at the attacking goon, launching herself at him just as he’s about to delve out another booted heel into Julian’s rib-cage. The girl snarls, knocking him away from the doctor, standing between him and the guard. And then the other burly guardsmen rush in to aid their comrade, yanking the girl from Julian as she claws and fights. She is held onto by two of the men, by her waist and arm, but they can hardly keep their grips.
“Daring girl you have here young Doctor,” the leader says, getting to his feet and moving around to Julian, stepping over the papers scattered around his ‘office’. He has his hands in his pockets as he stares, looking to Heather with a little laugh. The girl slows her thrashing, attention shifting to the leader, looking to what he’ll do next.
“St-stop,” Julian coughs out, moving sluggishly back to his knees, doubled over still with his hand to his abdomen.
“That can be done, and to be quite clear I’d prefer to keep this clean but not without good news,” He speaks out, a touch of agitation in his words. The leader points to the two guards to let Heather go then takes a step from his fine threaded carpet to peer his emotionless blue eyes down to the shuddering doctor. “So, Doctor Knowles, do you have good news for me now?”
Julian’s voice is snuffed out, a sound of skin and bone meeting skin and bone rings in the air. The doctor wavers, stunned, a red mark now on his face. Surprisingly he remains up this time, shaking his head to clear his hazy consciousness. A broad-shouldered guardsman stands above him, bald head and deep-set eyes below a scowling brow-line. He readies his fist again.
“I apologize, come again?” The leader asks a malicious grin stretching across his face, putting fine dark and menacing crinkle lines into the corners of his eyes.
“I can promise you tomorrow I will have a new match-” Julian speaks again only to be hit once more, his voice ending quickly. This time without another pause to give him a chance to speak again, the doctor is hit a third time, from the opposite direction so that his pale peach skin on either side of his head is inflamed in red.
“You disappoint me young doctor! We heard you were the best, guaranteed even for your quick delivery and connections! But what’s this? You not only waste my time with your tardiness but also deny me a suitable match? For who? Someone better than us?” The leader is fuming, pacing slightly. “Is that it?”
“Sir, tha-that’s not what this is about,” Julian huffs, clenching his teeth to bare the pain of his bruising face.
“But you’ve made up your mind?” The man asks, voice lowering mimicking perfect confusion. And then he warns in a whisper, “Would it change your mind if you see what we’ll do to your little girlfriend here?”
“Don’t you fucking touch her,” Julian speaks roughly, a tension now in his voice. His grey eyes narrow to the leaders’, evident of his strong will, a daring man himself. And the leader beams, happy to hit a mark, the doctors’ weakness to the petite Heather.
“We wouldn’t dream of touching her Doctor Knowles,” The black-haired leader says earnestly, shaking his head to the mere thought of such an act. “But we know who would.”
In a flash of a moment, Julian pulls from the front waist of his slacks, the small pistol he had pointed to Heather before. Instead he now points it to the leader, without a quiver, intense. And suddenly there is a chorus of clicks, weapons drawn while eyes stand wide. The girl jumps back as two pistols are aimed for her head, narrowed cautious stares moving from person to person.
“Now isn’t this startling of you young doctor! Here I thought, since the moment I met you, you were some back-alley ball-less tweaker with a penchant for black-market negotiations,” The leader gives a little laugh, hands up and backing away as the doctor pulls himself to his feet. “And a liking for young girls, yes, I’ve read the allegations,” he concludes with a sly grin.
“I know that I don’t look much like a man to fight, but I didn’t get into this business to end lives!” Julian shouts firmly, thrusting the barrel into the temple of the leaders’ head. “You can think what you want of me, but my only goal here is to save lives of persons who deserve it, who need another chance because bad things happened, because their insurance was denied, because they or their loved ones get weaker every day while waiting on a list for a transplant while men like your boss jump to the head of the line just by how deep their pockets go!”
“You won’t pull that trigger,” The leader chuckles, hands still high, eyes fixed to Julians’ with confident coolness.
“I won’t? Are you sure of that? As I see this, I could live with blood on my hands as long as I know no more will be spilled by yours,” the doctor says, a seething tone that levels into knowledgeable resolve. “Now, I said I can find another candidate, and I will, but it will be on my own terms.”
“Doctor Knowles, you have nothing to leverage yourself for this. You think you can leave this building without a payment of your own?” The man questions, a cold stare that moves just behind Julian. And the doctor follows it to Heather, eyes snapping to the girl in horror.
In an echo, a bang is heard, clamoring and shaking through the air. Heather is shot, a dark red hole appearing through the center of her chest. Ringing is heard all around me, deafening and becoming shrill. I hold my hands to my ears to block it out, it hurting and maddening, falling to my knees just as the girl falls. When she lands face sideways on the cement floor a rumble rolls through me, feeling the roughness of the hit but no true pain. Her eyes are still open, golden irises still glimmering and watching as the fight begins, soundless, panning by, action by action.
Julian screams and shoots, the blast felt by Heather on the floor, the quake through the air. The leader is hit, blood spurting from his shoulder. And then the guardsmen run in. The doctor shoots a second time, then a third, trying to aim though the black-haired man evades, rolling behind his desk to get out of the line of fire. Julian is pulled back, his gun ripped from his hand and then the end of anothers pistol is bashed against his already bleeding forehead. When he falls to the ground, they don’t cease their pummeling. Their fists and feet fly until he can’t lift himself again.
The leader comes back around from the desk, the commotion over. Blood runs down his lapel and he holds his hand to his wounded neck. He sneers, leaning down to pick Julian’s pistol from the floor.
“You’ve made a horribly stupid mistake,” The black-haired man says in a gruff slightly pained voice. “Not only have you shot me, but your professionalism to your job is poorly. I’m afraid I’ll take my business elsewhere.”
The leader moves, instructing the guardsmen to put away their weapons. His shoes drag across the cement, avoiding the pooling blood pouring from Heather. It dyes her hair and stains her clothing. She’s limp, staring vacant ahead from her immobile seat.
Heather watches the black-haired man look to her then to Julian, who paws through crinkling papers, nudging forward to meet the girl in ineffective movements. And then the leader shoots him. Julian’s body jolts and blood begins to run from a hole in his chest. They leave, letting the two remain in their red stained poses. The last remaining thought in Heather’s head before the scene begins to fade is the notion of Julian gasping for his life, and there is nothing she can do.
“H-Heather,” Julian whimpers out, turning on his back as his eyes water. And he pleads, and he weeps and there’s nothing he can do.
A tremor rockets through me, intensifying as the room’s colors begin to bleed. The permanent wound in my chest burns, crippling and forcing me to the floor. I scream with no one to hear, pain tearing through me. In the mayhem of mental anguish, I feel myself die once again.
Heather twitches suddenly, a body convulse and then her limbs. Movement has returned. She drags an arm sluggishly forward and heaves herself up. In clumps her blonde hair falls, skin peeling and flaking off. The surface disintegrates as she lifts herself from the floor, the doctor staring, unsure to the sight before him. It’s plain to see he wonders if he should trust his own black and blue eyes, feeling close to death.
Behind the full-bodied mask stands the real girl, the truth. Neither beautiful nor ugly, it is honest and living. Her skin, a tanned red, emerges through the pale peach slivers falling from her bare neck and face. Her long black silken hair is loose about her, hiding her expression. Piece by piece she returns, shuddering violently, brought into the biting cold.
Wing by wing.
“Julian,” The girl breathes finally, sad. When she gets to her feet, she no longer looks so small, so vulnerable – so human. She walks through her own cooling blood and ash, and moves down toward her fragile guardian.
“Heather…” Julian forces out, moving up, his hand to the wound in his chest, blood still seeping through.
“I never wanted to lie to you,” She says, shaking her head against the name he speaks to her.
“You… never gave me a name before… when-when-” the doctor tiredly begins but trails, a smile as he beams under the red girls’ worried stare. “I think… Heather suits you…”
The girl gives a short laugh, incredulous but endearing. Tears well in her golden eyes that she does all she can to hold back from spilling, keeping rigid in what she has to do next. Important matters comes first, and her happiness can be second. She presses against the wound cautiously, on top of his hand, until he coughs, and specks of red spray through the air.
“I-I have to get you out of here. I have to get you to a hospital,” She rushes out, eyes wide and filled with unyielding dread. “They-they can’t see me, but I can drop you off, I can-“
“Heather, wait… Just a moment…,” Julian softly speaks, teeth pink with the red still in his mouth, trickling now from the corner of his upturned lips. With a gentle hand, the doctor caresses the girls face, moving up to curl his fingers through her hair, to bring her closer. He kisses her, gently and genuine, then leans in to her ear.
I watch as Julian says something to the girl, something that finally lets those piling tears fall. His words are numb to my ears, empty of comprehension, but I know what was breathed into her was more than I can fathom. It’s something that I’ll never hear. It’s something that not even the living or the dead could ever be privy to: it is only hers to keep.
And there’s nothing that I can do.
The world melts from the aching silence, changing around me with barely a notice. Faraway chatter and footsteps rises, but there’s no one around to see. Not at first, not until I see her. The blonde haired ‘Heather’, pale skinned and wearing that frighteningly white gown, matching the banshee walls around us. She had moved from my side, then kept a few steps ahead, beneath those blinding lights from above, the shadows at her heels.
At first I wonder if it’s been looped around, if the girl has been thrusted back to the start, to endure her tortures again, pulling me along with her. I don’t ask her though. Inwardly I feel the curiosity drive me forward, following the girl as she begins her trek anew.
Silently, we pass dark flickering shapes, coming from the tiled cracks of the floor, watching the girl make her steps, but never impeding. Down the hall we walk, a step at a time, feeling closer yet further from cohesion. The floor remains in place but the walls slip us by. And the brightness dulls, nearing the opened door at the end of the hall, at the hospital room lying in wait.
It takes me a moment to understand the misshapen shadows around us, the flickering visions. They are onlookers and medical staff, made of blurs, muted tones and fragments. All of them are remnant memories the girl either forgot or didn’t care to remember. No, she was here to see him and to make it right.
Through large double doors, Heather moves, coming to a stop before a single brightly lit bed. Julian lies still, face up and eyes shut to the blinding world. He rests, wounds tended, life still being lived, if only barely. Wires and tubes run from his veins, pumping vitality into his sallow white and red stained skin. A faceless doctor, with his back to the girl, monitors Julian’s health, a guardian for her guardian.
When the girl comes bedside, the fragmented doctor turns a little to her, acknowledging her approach. He nods in solemn speech then leaves for the door, turning back into formless blackness that falls into the cracks from where he had come from, into the blank whiteness of her memories.
Peace breathes in for the girl, giving her precious time with her precious guardian. They’re finally alone once more, in tender and necessary solace. I watch from my shadowed distance at scribblings appearing around the fallen doctor, at what the girl had etched out once, the cure in foreign tongues and cryptic symbols, or so she thought. She tried what she knew best, with love brimming ache in her heart, but hopeless hope runs through her limbs, to her shaking fingers. She knows that writing out the spell once more would be useless, as it had been many times before.
“Is this where you’ll give up?” I hover out my question, a thought in actuality, puncturing the silence around us with little disturbance. I can’t keep it in, my odd interest, a desire for success for the girl, for her to achieve all she can do. I understand now.
“I’ve been taught from the start that the only legitimacy, is death. I’ve exhausted every effort but still that is always true,” She speaks softly, voice without an echo. “In Death there is no escape. It’s neither great nor ill… It’s the ultimate truth.”
“Death had once claimed me,” I mutter quietly its importance, remarking in the rising emptiness of the girls’ fragile recollection. The girl darts her eyes upwards, moving to mine from across the doctors’ bed where I stand, watching with my own small breaths, anxious. Her mouth moves to protest, shaking her head in disagreement but her keen eyes watch me in anticipating want.
“You can’t have come all this way to give in… Then and now. No, that’s not the girl I watched from afar, not the ambition I have seen,” Speaking in earnest suggestion, I see her knowledgeable eyes move across me, wondering.
“To what end should I go?” She finally asks with shaking breaths, wanting my approval.
So I give it to her,
“To whatever end you desire.”
I feel that tremor run through me once more, a final fleeting connection between her and I, linked to that simple yet harmful yearning: obsession. Deep within my ethereal core, I can recall that unwavering flame that which makes me understand. I can see the strength she possesses. With her I can see boundless life. In her, there is eternity.
Her eyes become wide staring to me before falling back down to her dear doctor, seeing him lying there, motionless, a notion becoming clear. Instead of fighting once more, as she had always done, the girl takes his hand in hers and finally accepts what she cannot combat. She waits, humming quietly through painful shallow breaths. And she begins to sing out loud when the machines around him begin to beep. The light above becomes searing white. All the sounds begin to fade, and the scenery, and the doctors rushing in, crying out, ‘he’s failing’ or ‘vitals are dropping’ – the girl continues to sing, her indomitable voice carrying out further than the memory.
Into the solidarity of consciousness, grim but undeniable, I pull myself from the girl, just as she rises from her bed. In the tower of her room, sunken in this haunting void, the place she calls the Rift, the girl wakens once more to the thrumming of her own powerful heart. Her covers are tossed about, pillows fallen to the floor as well as the emptied plastic bottle that had carried all the pills she had taken. Her inhuman body would naturally win the fight and she knew that from the start.
She just wanted to see him, one more time, even if the story had to end so grim.
It was foolish for me to have even thought she would be so desperate to end her own life. How was I to know the depths she would drive to find her answers? Would I stop at nothing to make my own goals reachable? It never occurred to me to associate her feeling as equal to mine. What I’d do for my own distant life is the same as she would for her own.
Death was the only thing that ended my venture on tangible planes. The girl had said from the start that I was never a prisoner but I made myself one. When I was first brought over from unconscious torment, living my own life over and over just as she had been in her self-comatose induced state, I resented the cognition. Everything I had been was left behind to the hands of time, rotting in memories. The truth I see now is that I’m still here, my new thoughts and my own new ambitions.
And so is she.
This is the first story of The O.U.R.S. Chronicles series. A science fiction fantasy series, packed with action, adventure, romance – and best of all- time travel.
Thanks for reading!