There were sounds in the darkness. She lay there, the fog of sleep still clinging to her. She was unsure for a second why or what had woken her. Then she heard it again. A creak on the stair, a scrape of something outside her door. Had she closed the door before she’d lain down? She didn’t remember.
She reached for the bedside table, feeling for her phone. Her fingers curled around it, pulling it toward her. She flicked her thumb up across the screen then pressed the flashlight icon. The tiny bulb on the back blazed into life, casting a narrow beam against the pillow. She rolled, sitting up, moving the light from wall to wall. She felt the power cord pull free as she raised the phone, the light sweeping toward the door.
The door was swinging slowly open, into the room. Beyond that, in the darkness of the hallway, something stirred. Could she hear breathing? Her fingers betrayed her by shaking as she pointed the phone directly at the doorway. The light seemed to dim just as she needed it the most.
The thin man melted out of the darkness, black clothes blending with the shadows. Only his deathly pale skin stood out, becoming almost translucent under glow from the phone’s light. Long fingers with cruel nails were hooked into claws. He wasn’t reaching for her, not yet. But his hunched shoulders gave her the impression of an animal ready to spring and she felt herself shrink back involuntarily. She opened her mouth to scream but the sound died in her throat. Her jaw worked, lips moved but nothing. She clutched the bed covers to herself, pulling them up around her, the only thin protection she had. The phone light jerked up, falling on the smooth, featureless skin of the man’s face. There was no nose, no mouth, just the same dead, white skin. There were no eyes, just a slight depression here they should have been. Even so, she knew he was staring at her. Hungrily.
The fake xylophone chimes of the alarm roused her. She sat up, rubbing at her face, feeling drained. As she reached over to swipe the alarm off, she knocked the bottle of pills over, scattering them across the bedroom floor. She swore, and slid out of the bed, kneeling to pick them up. For all the good they’d done.
She rose, showered and dressed quickly. On good days, it took her half an hour to get to work; bad days closer to an hour and this already had the feeling of a bad day. She checked her appearance, added a little more concealer over the shadows under her eyes, then set off.
Traffic was better than she’d feared and she was soon pulling into the multi-story parking lot near the offices of Marshall, Friedkin and Carpenter. She greeted people on her way in, the usual quick pleasantries, before settling into her office.
She was working on a deposition when one of the other juniors put her head around the door.
“Becky, you’re still on for tomorrow night, right?”
She bristled slightly. She’d told Angela that she didn’t like having her name shortened like that, never had since her school days but it seemed to go in one ear and out the other. “Tomorrow?” She said trying to remember.
Angela sighed; a bit theatrically it seemed to Rebecca. “Annie’s maternity leave starts and we’re having the going away party.”
Rebecca found herself nodding in agreement. She’d already contributed money for the gift and signed the card; it was surprising that it had slipped her mind. She put it down to her tiredness.
“Of course.” She told the other woman. “O’Neill’s at six, isn’t it?
“That’s it.” Angela agreed, casting a quick look over her shoulder and wincing. “Better go, here comes Mr. Worthing.” She gave Rebecca a commiserating look and moved off in a clatter of heels.
She made herself look busy, and was scribbling notations when Mr. Worthing stepped into her office. He was wearing a navy suit today; probably tailored, looking his usual impeccable self. “Ms. Christian,” He said, glancing at the paperwork on her desk. “How is the Barris case coming along?”
“I have three of the five depositions complete.” She told him. “But the two left are the longest and the most detailed…”
“Good, good.” He said, over -riding her. She got the impression he would have said that regardless of whatever she said, that he was hearing what he wanted to hear. “Unfortunately, the judge has decided to move our hearing up by a week so we’ll need the prep work finished that much sooner.” She felt her heart sink as she guessed what was coming next. “Can you work late this evening?”
Tired as she was, she really didn’t want to but this was a senior partner asking so… “Of course.” She told him.
It was close to nine when she left the building. She’d worked her way through dinner and her stomach felt like it was gnawing at itself. She been drinking coffee for the past few hours, trying to ensure that she stayed sharp but she could tell she was beginning to lose that battle. In a way, she was almost glad of the light drizzle outside. It spattered against her face, shocking her out of her stupor for a moment.
She made her way through the car park, fishing her car keys from her purse. Her fingers must have been slick from the rain because no sooner had she found them, than they slipped from her hand. She was bending over to pick them up when she heard a scrape somewhere behind her. It sounded like the scuff of a shoe against concrete and she glanced around, seeing no-one. Her skin crawled a little with the sensation of being watched. She hurried toward her car, head down.
As she was unlocking her door, fingers fumbling, she felt something prick the back of her neck, making her jump. She spun but again there was nothing there but empty air. She rubbed at her neck, thinking it could have been an insect. She was turning back to her car and he was there, at the far end of the car park, watching her.
The eyes that weren’t there seemed to drill into her as he raised a single finger before him. The nail atop it was thick, curved and looked wickedly pointed. He made a tapping motion with it and she thought for a second she heard mocking laughter.
She blinked and he was gone. Where the faceless man had stood was nothing more than the shadows of the corner of the car park. She shook her head, telling herself she must be more tired than she thought. And the dream from the night before must have troubled her more than she realized.
Once she was home she made herself dinner and, feeling strangely furtive, poured herself a glass of wine. She didn’t drink much as a rule, and certainly never alone. It would settle her nerves she told herself as she settled down in front of the television.
She flipped through her viewing options, heart skipping for one moment as she saw a pale figure in black grace the screen. But it was just a film and she blipped past it, eventually finding a comedy program. She was sure she’d seen before, but right now the familiar was comforting. She poured herself another glass.
She awoke with a start to hear a neighbor’s car pulling in. The TV screen still flickered, an ancient film on late, casting a black and white glow into the room. She pressed the off button on the remote, blanking the screen, throwing her reflection back at her. Her hair was a mess, all mashed to one side from her dozing.
She pulled herself to her feet, covering a yawn. She should have been in bed hours ago. She clicked off the living room lamp, leaving on the faint light coming through the blinds, courtesy of the street lamps outside. Not enough to really see by, but she knew her place well enough not to run into anything.
She made it out to the hall, and then began climbing the stairs with exaggerated carefulness. She went up a few, stopping in surprise as one step creaked unexpectedly under her weight. She lifted her foot, then put her weight down on the step again. Nothing. She repeated it again, still nothing. Then, another creak, this time from the top of the stairs. She froze, peering up into the darkness.
“Becky, Becky, Becky.” A voice seemed to whisper at her.
She moved back down a step, shaking her head. She was imagining things again. She forced herself, one foot at a time, to resume her ascent. She reached the small, square landing where the stairs turned without anything else disturbing her. Then, just as she was starting up the second flight, there was another creak. This time, behind her.
“Becca, Becca, Becca.” The voice hissed again.
She wouldn’t look back. She wouldn’t look back. She kept moving.
Another creak. “Becks, Becks, Becks.”
She gritted her teeth, forcing herself forward.
There was a scratching noise behind her now.
She couldn’t help it. She looked back.
The faceless man was halfway up the lower flight. His left hand rested on the banister but his fingers writhed, the sharpened nails stripping the varnish from the wood. His featureless face was turned up toward Rebecca.
“Becky, Becky, Becky.” The voice came again. It felt like it was right behind her, a sibilant rustling in her ears.
The faceless man took another step up toward her and she bolted, heading for the safety of her room.
She ran at the door to her bedroom and was startled when she rebounded from it, the wood staying stubbornly closed. She rattled the door handle, pushing at it frantically. She could hear the stairs creak again behind her.
She abandoned that door and tried the others; the spare room, the bathroom. None of the doors was normally closed but the all resisted her efforts. She was running out of options.
He was within a few feet of her now, the occasional shard of moonlight from the hall window catching and reflecting from his hairless scalp. His head swung slightly from side to side, following her as she ran from one door to another. Even without expression, she somehow knew he was amused by her fear. The needle pointed fingers twitched with anticipation.
“Becky, Becky, Becky.” This time the voice was different, almost chiding, as if she were an unruly child. The faceless man a curious gesture and all her muscles locked, freezing her in place. She had no choice but to watch as he stalked toward her. IT was like he was elongating as he got closer; arms, legs, fingers, all stretching out.
She felt those fingers curl themselves around her shoulders, drawing her in toward him. Them they clamped down, the nails, talons, sinking into her flesh and she tried to scream.
She jerked herself upright from the couch, the dream falling away as pain enveloped her right shin. She pulled it back in, hugging herself. Her eyes watered with the sudden, unexpected hurt. She’d banged it against the side of the coffee table, driving it askew. With a curse, she saw that she’d also managed to knock over her wine glass and some of the remnants still dripped onto the carpet.
She pushed herself to her feet, feeling light-headed for a moment then went through to the kitchen to get something to mop up the spill. As she dabbed at the carpet, hoping it wouldn’t stain, she shook her head in annoyance. Another bloody nightmare. What the hell was the matter with her?
Angela pushed a second drink into her hand. “That should perk you up a bit.” She said, sipping at her own cocktail. “You’ve been looking miserable all day.”
Rebecca couldn’t argue with her. It wasn’t a hangover, even with the glass and a half of wine she’d had last night. She just felt drained, unrested. Hardly surprised since she’d barely been able to sleep after she’d exchanged the sofa for her bed. It was beginning to feel like she was afraid to close her eyes.
She tried to put it out of her mind, looking instead at the gaggle of women accompanying her on this night on the town. Annie, a small, normally small, woman wasn’t drinking, for obvious reasons. She was plainly showing now and every time she got up to go to the ladies, which was often, one arm always cupped her belly protectively.
None of them had felt it would be right to make the guest of honor their designated driving as well, so Melissa had been kind enough to volunteer to stay sober as well. She looked like she was regretting that now, judging by the way she kept shooting envious glances at Angela and the other two drinkers.
Jess and Kerry seemed to be taking great delight in telling Annie, and anyone else in earshot, stories about their own pregnancies. “The worst part was the prenatal class.” Jess was saying, puffing at an e-cigarette. “We ended up watching this video that looked like it was done in the Seventies. Full birth process and I’m not sure what was worse, the doctor’s clothes or the woman’s pubes. That was one bush that definitely needed some trimming.” This was met with shrieks of laughter from Kerry, Angela and Melissa. Annie just listened with a slightly horrified fascination. Jess leaned over and patted her hand. “You want my advice; make sure you take care of…” She made a gesture in the direction of Annie’s lap. “First thing I did after seeing that video.”
“The video we got,” Kerry cut in. “The kid came out and the sac, the membrane, was like, still intact. So the baby’s all covered in all that whitish gunk.” She looked at the others. “You know what I mean? And, of course, himself starts asking ‘Do they really look like that?’ and I’m trying to get him to sit down and shut up but he’s just totally freaking out and…”
Rebecca began to zone out, letting the stories just drift away from her. She was still listening, vaguely at least. Enough so that could laugh or nod at the appropriate times. She sipped at her drink then began fishing out the olives and chewing them one at a time. She was wondering if this evening had been a mistake; she wasn’t really in the mood for a night out. The combination of the lack of sleep and the hectic day at the office meant that the martinis were hitting her harder than she’d anticipated. She was already feeling pretty buzzed. And something else.
She pushed herself to her feet, wobbling just a little and made her excuses to the others for a moment. She tottered off to the ladies, finding herself a stall. She relieved herself, then stayed in the little cubicle a while longer, trying to clear her head a little. The entire bathroom had an underlying scent of disinfectant, slight but there. It actually helped, cutting through the alcohol haze. She took several deep breaths; then stood, flushed, and left the stall.
She washed her hands, and then splashed some water on her face. Maybe it would be best if she said her goodbyes just now. She wasn’t adding much to the evening and she doubted the other would miss her all that much.
She patted her face dry with a paper towel, then froze; a cry of alarm strangling itself in her throat. He was there, at the edge of the mirror. He was back against the far wall, the same slight tilt to his head as he looked at her. She spun on her heel, ready to confront him. For once, her tiredness was overcoming her fear.
She was facing the wall, nothing between her and the tiled mural. She stopped, unsure of herself again, then turned back to the mirror. The faceless man leaned out of the mirror, long fingers reaching out to clamp down on either side of her skull. His thumbs came up, the ball of each resting in the hollows of her eyes. She swallowed, a vision of him driving those thumbs into her sockets, blinding her. She drew in a breath to scream, then stopped in confusion. There was the barest pressure on her eyelids, then even that was gone as the thumbs slid lower. She felt them trace over her cheekbones, carefully, almost lovingly. Then they pulled back a little more and she felt the sharp edges of his nails instead. She could feel one slice into her right cheek. The warm wetness of blood trickled down her face.
She felt a desperate surge of fear and adrenaline. She threw herself backward, heels almost slipping on the tiled floor. As she steadied herself, she looked hesitantly at the mirror. Her own reflection stared back at her, pale-faced and sweaty. There was no sign of blood, no indication of any injury. But her cheek still stung from the scratch he’d made. She felt bile rise in her throat and barely made it to the stall before she vomited.
When she emerged from the stall, she returned to the mirror. She kept her distance this time, staying more than arm’s length away. She studied herself closely, making sure that none of the vomit had splashed onto her clothes. She washed her hands again, scooped some water into her mouth, rinsed, spat. She glanced at her face once more and saw with a shudder that she’d been wrong before.
There just below her eye, was a faint line, like a long healed scratch. She raised her hand to touch it, feeling the slight ripple in the skin. Bile rose in her throat again but she fought it back, gulping air.
She eventually pushed her way back out into the bar, weaved her way between people and tables. Finding the others again, still tormenting the pregnant woman a friendly pat on the shoulder. She told them she wasn’t feeling too good, not a lie by now, and said she was going to leave, that she hoped they enjoyed the rest of their evening. There was some token protest from the others and Melissa was good enough to ask if she still wanted a lift but Rebecca shook her head. Finding a cab wouldn’t be too difficult. Besides, taking a cab, there was a better chance she’d be able to be left alone. She gave them all a small wave, then left the bar, stepping out into the evening.
She waved down a cab within minutes, giving the driver her address and settling herself into the back. The driver did try making some attempt at conversation but, after some monosyllabic replies, gave it up as hopeless. She should probably give them a decent tip, by way of apology.
What was happening to her? The dreams had been bad enough when they were disrupting her sleep but now…
She shook her head, not wanting to admit it, not even to herself. She was seeing things. Even just saying that inside her head made everything shift, as if she was suddenly on uneven and treacherous ground. If she could no longer trust her own senses… She shifted uncomfortably.
She could see the driver watching her, sneaking glances in his rear-view mirror. As the cab turned a corner, the reflection showed his eyes drifting back and forth. For just a moment, they blurred; the image smearing into a seamless expanse of flesh. She jerked back in her seat, a cry of alarm escaping her. She felt the cab lurch. She startled the driver into mis-calculating and one of the front tires had struck the kerb. She heard his curse as he tried to wrestle the vehicle back under control before he brought it to a halt.
He turned in his seat to face her, face flushed with anger. “What the hell, lady?” He barked.
She babbled something even she didn’t understand, grabbing a handful of notes and pushing them at him. She fumbled at the door handle, feeling it fighting her in her haste. It sprang open, nearly spilling her out into the street. She scrambled free, swinging the door shut behind her. It was barely even closed before the cab jerked back into traffic.
She swayed, glancing around her, trying to work out where she was. She could feel the chill of the evening air clearing her head. The shop on the corner looked familiar, a small grocery, she thought. She made her way toward it, blinking in the bright florescent lights as she stepped inside. She picked up a few random items; some chocolate, some aspirin, a bottle of Coke. Then, after a moment’s hesitation, she plucked a bottle of vodka from the shelf and tucked it under her arm. As she turned toward the cash register, she caught sight of the large rounded mirror mounted in the far corner, set to reflect the occupants in the aisles toward anyone watching from the counter. For the briefest moment, she thought she glimpsed the slender figure of the faceless man again but, if she did, it was gone again in a blink. She got to the counter, paid, and resumed her way home. Without even realizing it, she automatically stayed close to the pavement’s edge, where the street lights were the brightest. She walked as fast as she could, fairly sure that she didn’t have far to go.
She called in sick on the Monday morning. She hadn’t left the house all weekend. Instead, she’d spent the time in a state of limbo. Too tired to sleep, too exhausted not to. And even when she did begin to doze, none of it was restful. More often than not, the faceless man was waiting for her.
Nothing was helping her stave off the nightmares. Not the sleeping pills, not the alcohol, not the sleeping pills and the alcohol. She knew it was dangerous but she was becoming desperate. She needed rest. Her mind was clouded with the fatigue.
The only time everything seemed clear was when the faceless man came for her. Only then was she fully alert, as if her restored awareness increased her fear, which both pleased and served him. The rest of the time, she felt like she was slowly disappearing inside herself, that everything was being removed from her. The world was draining away.
She barely had the energy to continue caring for herself. She hadn’t eaten in thirty-six hours, showered in forty-eight. She wasn’t sure how bad she looked now; she’d already covered most of the reflective surfaces in the house. She was tired of the constant feeling that he was always watching her, hidden in a mirror. But what was worse were the occasional moments when she’d looked at herself and, just for an instant, had seen a faceless visage looking back. She’d wanted to smash it, had raised her fist to do so, but the image had vanished, replaced by a tangle haired, mascara flaked, shell of a woman. She’d still wanted to smash it, but her initial impetus had faded and she’d covered it with a towel instead. Then she’d done the same with anything else she could find; other mirrors, framed photographs, the television. She was even afraid to look at her phone.
She was losing track of time too. She could tell the night from day purely by the light that made it around the edges of the blinds. Beyond that, she was lost. Everything was blurring. She would doze, then start herself awake with no idea how much time had passed, minutes or hours.
But none of that meant anything anymore, only the tiredness and the faceless man. They were her new reality.
By the time the weekend was turning into the week, the faceless man was coming to her every time she closed her eyes. She was afraid to even blink, that even that tiny moment of darkness behind her eyes would be enough to let him at her again. And it was becoming harder to avoid; heavy as her eyes were. She would fight it as long as she could, lids drooping ever closer to closed. But eventually, they would close and she would drift.
At first she was able to rouse herself in time to keep the faceless man away from her. He never showed any signs of haste to seize her, as if he knew it was only a matter of time before she was vulnerable again. He seemed to thrill to the anticipation of her surrender that it would happen sooner or later.
Every so often, he was right. She was either too worn out, or too mired in the dream to break free. He would reach her and she would feel those wickedly sharp nails sink into her flesh. When they did, it felt as if all the energy she might have left was being drawn out of her. She could almost feel it pulsing into him through those long, bony fingers. He would swell with it, like a leech bloated on blood. Only when he seemed to be at the point of bursting did she wake up again.
She knew she was dozing off again, despite everything she could do. The coffee wasn’t doing much except scalding her tongue, as quickly as she was drinking it. Her arms were red and welted from the constant pinching to shock herself back into consciousness. She could feel it stealing over her, pulling her down. Each time her eyes flickered closed; she did her best to force them open again, each time for a shorter and shorter duration.
The faceless man was waiting for her. He stood opposite, tall and slender as always. His smooth, featureless head inclined toward her, a mockery of a bow. As he straightened again, his hands came up, almost clasping them in front of him. The fingernails clicked against each other in eagerness.
She was frozen, muscles locked into immobility. The eagerness almost turned to an air of disappointment that she would not provide better sport. Then his hunger took control. He glided toward her, fingers outstretched, all patience forgotten. The needle sharp nails sunk deeply into her flesh, boring in.
She did her best to struggle against him but he drew her closer to him, and she felt the leeching effect beginning to drain what little energy she had left.
Was he growing or was she shrinking, or both? As the life flowed out of her she couldn’t tell. The fingers which pinned her began to undulate, and then lengthen. Without pulling free, they looped about her, slowly tightening as if to squeeze every last drop from her.
He was growing. Even with her vision dimming he was sure of it. He swelled with her stolen life, becoming taller and taller. With his fingers now long and thick as tentacles, he hoisted her into the air, the floor dropping away beneath her feet. She was lifted up and up, pulled closer to that blank featureless face. It had become giant, larger than she was. He tilted her from side to side, a child examining a toy. The finger tentacles tightened once more and her ribs creaked. She couldn’t even draw breath to cry out.
She awoke, the scream bursting forth from her. It echoed about her, bouncing off the cream walls. Her body felt heavy, sluggish. She tried to raise her head but even fighting the inertia, she found herself unable to move much beyond getting her head an inch or two above the pillow. Twisting her neck side to side, she realized she was no longer in her home. The room was sparse; the bed where she lay was all she could see as its furnishings. Light came in through a high window, small but uncovered. Judging by the light it had to be day time, but she had no clue which day.
She struggled to rise once again. This time it wasn’t just the leadenness of her body that held her back but the padded leather cuffs about her wrists and ankles. She thrashed, desperately trying to pull free. It did no good, they were too secure. She screamed again, as much in frustration as fear, her body bucking, rattling the bed frame.
Her head jerked to one side at an unknown noise. Her brain, still foggy from sleep, caught up to her ears, realizing it was the click of the door being unlocked. A man, dressed in white, entered a long thin something in his hand. She thought she saw something drip from it just before he brought it close to her arm. She had a flash of the faceless man’s nails digging into her and she screamed once more; a wordless cry of pain, fear and rage, and begin to thrash her body against its restraints. The man hesitated for a moment, and then leaned forward once more. She felt her skin being pierced, a sharp pinch, followed by liquid warmth flowing through her. It sunk into her limbs, pulling them back down into the cushion of the thin mattress. Her eyes began to flutter and she prayed that this time the faceless man would leave her alone.
Light stabbed at her and she blinked furiously. Or tried to. Something was holding her eye open, shining the light directly down into her face. She squinted, seeing a blurry shape above her and she came close to panic, thinking the faceless man had evolved some new torment for her. The figure stepped back, the pressure against her eyelids easing. The light fell away from her face before blinking out completely.
“Rebecca?” A voice said.
It wasn’t the whispering voice from her dreams, this sounded… normal. She risked opening her eyes fully.
The man who stood before her was solid. It was the first word that came to her mind. He wasn’t tall or short, neither fat nor thin. He just looked average. The most distinguishing feature about him was his glasses, with largish round frames that made her think of someone whose name she couldn’t remember. Sometimes, just for a moment when the light caught him just right, the lenses went opaque, rendering his gaze blank. But the eyes behind the lens were a warm chocolate brown, and were peering at her with concern.
“Can you hear me, Rebecca?” The voice said, and this time she saw the man’s lips move. She struggled to focus on him and nodded.
“That’s good.” He gave her an encouraging smile. “Can you tell me where you are?”
This time she shook her head and he made a small twist with his mouth. She couldn’t tell if he was disappointed with her answer or her continued silence. He reached down toward the foot of her bed and she tried involuntarily to pull her legs up toward her. The restraints rattled and she thought she saw him shake his head slightly. Instead of grabbing at her, he lifted a clipboard from the bed and started scribbling on it. For a moment the only sound in the room was his pen against the paper.
Eventually he finished his notes and looked at her once more. The light glinted off his glasses.
“Rebecca,” He said, and something inside her quailed against what he was about to say. “I’m afraid this is going to be difficult for you to hear. Do you think you’re ready to hear it?” He seemed sincere in his concern for her. She nodded, and then caught herself. Her throat felt raw from her earlier screaming but she managed to rasp out. “Yes.”
He nodded himself and gave another small smile. “This is the Wollstonecraft Psychiatric Hospital.” He kept going despite the tiny wail that escaped her. “My name is Dr. Mark Inferus and I’ve been treating you.” He hesitated and she knew he was holding something back. To cover it, he asked. “Does any of that sound familiar?”
She shook her head again, not trusting herself to speak.
He frowned, then pushed forward. “I’m sorry to say that,” He hesitated again. “Well, there’s no easy way to say this. You had a psychotic break.”
She tried to make a denial but the protest died somewhere between her mind and her lips. Her stomach lurched, heaved, and she fought the sudden attack of nausea.
“I’m sorry about the restraints.” He said. “But I’m afraid they’re for your own good.” He made a gesture and she tilted her head to follow. The inner side of her arm was marred, the skin scored by a dozen or more scratches. Some looked old and faded; others were still a livid red. She looked up at the doctor in mute appeal.
“I’m afraid so.” He said in answer. “You would claw at those attending your as well.”
He undid the cuff on his shirtsleeve, drawing it back to reveal three gently fading scratches. He looked almost apologetic as he buttoned it up again. “I’m afraid that’s also one of the reasons we’ve had to sedate you on a number of occasions, including last night.”
Her mind threw up an image of the white-clad figure, the last thing she could remember before the doctor woke her. Had that been someone sedating her? Was that why her head felt like it was full of cotton wool? It must have been. She shook her head, trying to clear it.
Dr. Inferus seemed to take it as a denial instead. “I’m sorry, but we did. You were hysterical, screaming incessantly and we were concerned that you might be a danger to yourself.” He glanced at her arm again, then bit back whatever he’d been about to say. Instead he said. “You’ve been asleep for the better part of twelve hours now. I’m glad to see you’re being calmer now.” He hesitated. “If I removed your restraints, will you…” He stopped before saying the last word but she heard it anyway.
“I’ll be good.” She told him, her voice a little less raspy than earlier. She sounded like a little girl, with the promise of being allowed to stay up late. She hated that. She tried to smile at him but her face felt slack. She wasn’t sure it was responding properly.
He smiled back at her.
He undid the restraints on her ankles first, staying at the foot of the bed and leaning over to release the buckles on each. Then her left wrist and finally her right.
She scooted herself back toward the head of the bed, drawing her legs up toward her into an upright fetal position. She rubbed at her wrists, even though the restraints had been padded. Her brain told her they should be sore, so she massaged the skin anyway. In addition to the marked up flesh, she found herself surprised at how slender her arms were. She glanced down. Her legs were the same; not emaciated but thinner than she could ever remember them being. And like her arms, they too were marked with scratches. The softer flesh of her inner thighs looked like it had been repeatedly gouged by nails. She remembered the faceless man’s long fingers and nails and let out a low moan.
“Rebecca, are you all right?” Dr. Inferus said calmingly but she couldn’t help noticing that he’d stepped back, moving to more than arms-length, rather than to comfort her.
She tried to regain control, and remain calm. Even though now she’d let him in, she could hear that whispering voice in her head again. Faint enough that she couldn’t make out any specific words, if there were any. It was a susurrus just on the edge of her awareness.
She realized Dr. Inferus was still watching her warily. She tried to relax herself, seem as unthreatening as possible. None of it was making any sense, and yet it seemed more plausible than what was in her head. She looked at her arms again, her leg. Looking past the scratches and the welts to the atrophy underneath. She was wasting, thinner than she could ever remember. It might have been desirable once but there was no tone in her limbs anymore. They felt weak, like she was no longer accustomed to using them. She hugged herself, drawing her legs up even further, arms wrapping around them.
After a moment she realized what she must look like, curled up like she was. She glanced at Dr. Inferus. He was watching her but he didn’t seem alarmed or even surprised. Had he gone through this with her before? Had he seen her even worse?
He had the clipboard at hand, was making notes, looking up at her every so often, and then returning to his writing.
She unwound herself slowly, wary of making any more he might interpret as a threat. She slid from the bed and stretched, hearing tiny pops as her spine flexed with her.
She bent over, reaching down to touch her bare feet. The floor was cold against them, pale linoleum or something similar, designed for function, not for comfort. Her body felt stiff and sore. She wondered how long she’d been in those restraints.
As she rose, she realized the whispering was growing louder. Still only on the edge of her hearing but more distinct. She tried to push it away. She could hear her name.
“Rebecca?” She started when Dr. Inferus said it as well. “Are you alright?”
She nodded, not trusting herself to say anything for a moment.
He was still watching her; not wary, not yet. But she got the feeling that that could change if she remained silent. “I’m just sore.” She said hesitantly, her throat still dry and scratchy.
He seemed to accept this. He nodded and continued writing.
“Can’t trust him, Rebecca.” The voice made her jump and she covered by turning it into another stretch. It wasn’t the sibilant hiss of the faceless man but it cut through the other whispering, clear and precise.
As if he sensed something, Dr. Inferus looked up sharply. As he did, the light caught his glasses again; turning them into a mask and the voice cried “See!” She recoiled before she could stop herself and his face darkened with suspicion.
“Rebecca,” He said warningly, almost threateningly. The whispering surged, almost a tidal wave in danger of overwhelming her.
“I think you should get back into bed.” He continued his striving for soothing but with a dark undertone to it. He hadn’t moved but she had the impression of him looming over her somehow.
She stared at him, trying to drown out the voices in her head.
“Rebecca.” He said again, edging back into a warning tone. “Are you listening to me?
The whispering was now shouting, screaming. They mixed and overlapped a senseless cacophony in her ears. She almost staggered under their sudden onslaught.
Dr. Inferus must have been waiting for an opportunity. He lunged forward, hand reaching out to grab at her wrist. She jerked back, feeling his fingers brush against her without gaining purchase. They felt strangely cold. Without even thinking about it, she lashed out herself. Her arm came around in a fast arc, one of her ragged nails catching him, adding a red line just below his cheekbone. A drop of blood appeared there, welling against the skin for a moment before succumbing to gravity. It fell slowly, spattering against the white coat. The crimson blossomed there, bright and red.
“You shouldn’t have done that, Rebecca.” The shouldn’t came out in a sibilant hiss.
She stared at the bloodstain on his chest. It was spreading, darkening. She blinked, not trusting her eyes. Not only was the coat darkening, it seemed to be shortening as well, drawing up toward his torso. In seconds, it had turned from a white lab coat to a black suit coat.
“Becky, Becky, Becky.”
She knew that voice. She looked into his face in horror, watching the hair slough away and the features begin to melt into a smooth waxy expanse of flesh. It flowed over the scratch shed left, healing in seconds. The glasses sunk back into the skull, fusing into the eye sockets.
One of the hands dipped down, sliding smoothly into a coat pocket. When it returned the fingers were already elongating, the nails as cruel and sharp as ever. For a moment, they almost gleamed, the sheen of something metallic about them. They clicked against each other as he lunged for her. She felt them pierce her skin once more; the last shreds of her self being taken. The voices in her head, the screams and protests began to fade and she closed her eyes.