Author: fromthemindof PM
A quick writing challenge I completed for a friend: insert one of your characters into a mental institution and detail a nightmare that they have there. This is my first upload on this confounded site, so bear with me.Rated: Fiction T - English - Horror - Words: 11,620 - Published: 06-27-12 - Status: Complete - id: 3036517
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
It had all been going so well. At least, that was what they had told her. She had almost started to believe them, but in the deepest crevice of her fractured mind her primordial self, the part of her that had existed even before she had, knew that nothing had changed. She didn't feel any different, really. The doctors, the nurses, the white-coated magicians, they had all told her that she had changed. What words had they used? She grasped at the wisps of thoughts in her mind, willing them into some sort of coherent memory. Coping skills. The psychologist-woman had told her that she had been gaining coping skills. But that had been a lie, even if it was one that she had never meant to tell. Desdemona Monroe was the same frightened, empty husk of a person that she had been when she had wandered into the ward almost a year ago. Whether she had intended to waltz into a madhouse or had been guided by some cosmic ringmaster along a tightrope going only one direction, she couldn't recall. All she could remember, all that really mattered, was that she had been alone. She was still alone. Nothing had changed.
That was why she did her best to fend back the memories. If she didn't remember she wouldn't have to face the fact that she had made no progress. She continued to bear resemblance to a quivering cocoon, but with no butterfly inside of her – just a compressed void of nothingness. Maybe that was all she ever would be. Still, memories burst forth as water springing from the cracks of the poorly constructed dam that she fought to hold together. Memories of a hospital room, not so different from her own living quarters in appearance. But it was not the same room. No, there was more hope there. More insidious, malicious hope. She remembered the ivy that snuck up the walls, tapped at the window panes, and threatened to surge into the room, overtaking monitors and expensive equipment and replacing all of their wiry innards with vines. Most prominently, she remembered the face of a woman, cloaked in drab white, talking to her in the hallway. The words had been lost to time, but her listless eyes still spoke for her. At the time, it had seemed odd to Desdemona that all of that pity could have crammed itself into one face. The general tone played at comforting, but that pity overrode any words of solace. The nurse felt sorry for her; because she knew that she was all alone.
Somehow, over the course of months, she had resigned herself to that complete isolation, that hollowness. The gaping hole in her body remained so large that any time she looked down she expected to see it. But she had subsisted, perhaps because she had no alternative. Maybe that was what the doctors called "coping skills". Nothing felt better, though. Coping was miserable. It was a non-life. But at some point she had assumed that this was how other people lived, too. They must. It never gets easy, she had thought, we just learn to live with difficult. She had been prepared for that before the incident. Now she was disillusioned, now she was terrified. She realized now that she hadn't gotten any better, nothing had gotten any better. That beast, the creature that had been sedated by Lithium and soothed by therapy sessions, was still in her. Only it wasn't a beast. It wasn't anything. It was a gaping vaccuum of emptiness waiting behind a toothed maw to inhale her. It was slowly consuming her, returning her to oblivion. Sometimes she thought it had already succeeded, and that her lonely existence was the product of the universe's plasticity, trying to compensate for the sudden loss.
That morning she had been tugged even closer to the edge of forsaken nihility. The day had started out so innocuous, so commonplace. It had been breakfast time when she had been seized by restlessness, the urge to wander. Her ward wasn't locked, so slipping from her room into the sterile white hallway was fairly easy. She had lost herself in the squeak of sneakers on linoleum and the gentle undulation of her hips and shoulders as she walked. Time had always been a difficult concept for her, and thus she knew not if she had been walking for minutes or hours. She might never have stopped, had that dreadful solitude not been interrupted. At first the sight had been amusing – a uniformed fleet of psychiatrists and psychologists and orderlies all scuffling, all of them trying to shove themselves into a single doorway. They looked to her like birds all attempting to occupy a very small nest. She had stopped walking at one point, she wasn't sure when, and had stood behind the crowd for a long while before even bothering to wonder what had caused the commotion. And then her large green eyes rose above the earthbound cluster to a lone suspended figure. She was just hanging there, from a pipe in the ceiling, her short silver hair tumbling into her sharp, youthful face. She could have been a puppet, but there was nothing whimsical about her. There was only silent, lifeless, resignation. And then there were hands on her, on her shoulders. The cacophony had suddenly been redirected at her. "You shouldn't be here. You shouldn't see this. Don't worry; we'll take care of you." And just like that the hovering woman was forgotten by everyone but Desdemona. There were employees fretting over her, around her, and all she wanted to do was scream.
"Don't look at me!" She wanted to shriek. "Stop it! Stop looking at me! I'm fine! Look at her! LOOK AT HER!" But no words tumbled out and she was swept away by the tide of misplaced concern.
From there everything blurred. She vaguely recalled a therapy session. The psychologist's office wasn't white like most of the building, but it might as well have been. All of the beige paint and the diplomas on the wall were just vain attempts to blot out the blankness that surrounded them. The questions had been mundane, unimportant. How do you feel about what you saw today? How are you dealing with such a tragedy? How can we help you cope with grief? The questions didn't seem to originate from the woman's gliding tongue; rather, they just tumbled off the checklist in her hand. For the life of her, she couldn't summon the answers she had given to mind. They hadn't been real, anyways. Just a few steps in the farcical dance the two performed once or twice a week. At one point the haze that lingered about the encounter had abruptly receded and she had brought herself to ask why the girl had done it. The morbid fascination had disconcerted the woman across the table and, after recovering from her stupor, she had given some horribly generic answer: something about the wars in people's heads and how not everyone wins. Desdemona had stopped listening by that point. Then she had inquired, once again rather suddenly, what would happen to her body. The response resounded in her head.
"Well, she had no family. If no one claims the body it will go to potter's field. Or be cremated. Whichever is cheaper."
The plainness disturbed her, brought a tremor to her hands. There had been more talking after that, but a fog of oppressive dread and sorrow pervaded it and now obscured it in her mind. That sensation had dogged her, been her sole companion throughout the day. She might have cried at some point. Her eyes stung as if she had. If only she could sleep, let the warm embrace of unconsciousness beat back the abhorrent onslaught of abandonment and emptiness. But whenever her heavy lids slid closed she saw that melancholy face surrounded by a stratus of silvery hair. She wanted to cling to that image, but before she could even attempt to memorize its contours it began to fade, to blur. For once in her life she wanted to remember, but she just couldn't hold on to that girl's face. The notion was unbearable, sickening, and the trembling of her hands became even more violent. Why did she even care? She hadn't known the girl, hadn't even known her name. Maybe that was the terrifying part. Someone alone, just like her, could disappear in the matter of a day, retreat into nonexistence. It made her want to vomit. Stomach still churning, she had launched herself off of her bed, like a person possessed, and thrown her drawers open. She clawed desperately through them, searching for that little antique fountain pen that she kept hidden in the rumpled folds of her clothes. When she finally seized it, it became a conduit for her madness.
Hypergraphia they called it. She had been told it was a manifestation of her anxiety, the uncontrollable, irrepressible urge to write. To her, however, it wasn't a syndrome or a disorder or anything that could be reified – it was the manifestation of pure lunacy. It was what had coaxed her into her current position, crouching like a feral cat on the ground, scribbling on the wall in abyssal black ink. The words covered the wall like an unsightly rash (she had even mounted her chair to reach the seam of the ceiling). Now she was only a two feet from the floor. The muscles in her hand burned but she couldn't make herself stop. Her hand continued slashing and looping making obscure black strokes on the white wall, marring it. She wasn't even sure what she was writing. The words didn't matter. Because in her mind, in her absurd realm, she wasn't writing, she was bleeding. That crawling black ink was the nothingness that was inside of her and she desperately wanted to be rid of it. If she could only write enough… use up all of the black ink that coursed through her veins… then maybe that void would go away, she could feel like a whole person. GETOUTGETOUTGETOUT! Her mind bellowed as she scrawled on the walls like a mad woman. She was a mad woman. She certainly looked like one. Black had been splattered all over her white nightgown from her erratic movement, and her long cascade of hair, the same inky color as the letters on the walls, tumbled rebelliously in her face. That was alright. She didn't have to see. She just had to write, to purge herself of all of that monstrous, vacuous nothing. If she didn't it would consume her, it would eat her alive, like battery acid flowing through all of her arteries and capillaries.
The door crashed open, there was yelling, but she didn't stop, she couldn't stop. If she did she would fall into that widening canyon of oblivion and be forgotten, just like the hanging girl, and her body would end up in some potter's field and no one would ever come looking for her. A shadow was looming over her now, but it was not the shadow of the nothing-beast inside of her so she didn't care. GET OUT OF MY BODY! I DON'T WANT TO DISAPPEAR! She was still penning furiously when a rough hand grabbed her wrist, tried to make her stop. "NO!" came her banshee's screech as she tore away. Why were they trying to stop her? Did they want her to die?
Once again she was grabbed. "STOP IT!" This time her scream was even shriller, more panicked. She had to write. She had to get the venom of the void out of her body. She slashed madly at the face of her assailant with her pen, struggling to free herself. "GET AWAY FROM ME!" Finally she broke the bruising grip and stumbled backwards, brandishing her pen wildly. She had to find something to write on. Before it was too late. More people in the room now. They were advancing, drawing closer, trying to make her stop. She ripped the nib of her pen through the air once again, trying to force them to retreat. "STAY AWAY! ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL ME?" But they kept coming. One of them had a needle. She was frantic now, her whole body was shivering so hard it became a fight to stay upright, and her hands twitched of their own accord. But there was nowhere to write, nowhere to go. NononoIdon'twanttodieIdon'twanttodisappear!She couldn't let herself slip off the edge of the precipice, couldn't let herself become a nonentity. The nothingness couldn't take her! She had to escape. She could feel that blackness spreading through her body. Hands suddenly steeling with resolve, she backed another step away from the wall of intruders, her back pressing up against the lone window in her room. She drew her pen forward one last time and plunged it into her heart.
Floating. She was floating; suspended in some sort of thick, syrupy liquid. But when she opened her mouth to breathe, no fluid filled her lungs. With that first breath, she began to feel a crushing pressure enveloping her, twining around her and squeezing her to the point of pain. It was only when she tried to squirm, to alleviate her discomfort, that she became aware of how terribly heavy her body felt, like it had been weighed down with rocks and tossed into the depths of the ocean. She just wanted to stay curled up in… wherever she was. Where was she? It was this question that inspired her to test opening her eyes. Funny, she hadn't realized they had been closed... The struggle required to pry open her eyelids was unexpected, and her whole body thrashed with the effort. It seemed that all of the miniscule fibers that held her body together were raging against her endeavor, as if afraid of what inglorious leviathan might be unleashed with her sight. Her indomitable conviction triumphed, however, and with an airy gasp her eyelids were loosed of their anchors.
She was remarkably unperturbed by her surroundings. Blackness. Swirling, impenetrable, blackness. It was unusual, but there was nothing obviously unpleasant about it. The paranoia gnawing at her subconscious seemed unfounded. This wasn't the oblivion that she had feared. She could still feel, she could still think, she was still there. But she was still alone. That final thought echoed in the vast space around her, as clear as if she had said it aloud. The reverberation did not ricochet several times and fade as one would expect. Instead, it grew in frequency and volume, the tones bending and twisting until it was no longer her voice. It had fractured into hundreds of hissing, cackling voices, all jeering at her from the shadows. They were screaming and laughing and squealing all around her. Her hands flew to her ears, trying to block out the wicked symphony. As she ground her palms against her head, the vocal pandemonium dissolved into the shadows until she was encased in silence once more. Her breathing slowed and her panic ebbed. She allowed herself to relax.
"Look at your hands."
A single, sing-song voice giggled in her ear, so close she could feel lukewarm breath buffeting against her cheek. Nerves on end, she glanced downwards at her palms before she could stop herself and screamed. The sound that came out was not her cry, but the cacophony of a thousand voices, all snickering uproariously at her. Those words, the words she had forced out of her body, splattered on paper and concrete and brick, were now blossoming on her hands, crawling up her arms, trying to retreat back into her body. They spread like a plague across her skin, sombre and menacing. The nothingness that had spilled out through her pen was reclaiming the body it had marked. "NOOO!" her wail burst through the chortling around her and again she was plunged into silence. She screamed a second time and tore ferociously at her skin, trying to rip the words off of her. They were snaking up her neck now, towards her face, and she dug her nails into her flesh, scratching and writhing, anything to get those words off of her! Where skin was broken though, she discovered to her own horror, black ink spat out, soaking her. The letters twining around her were drawn to these fountains, as they provided means to return to their origins, and they surged into the wounds with newfound vigor. "NONONO!" She sobbed, still clawing uselessly at her own body. Tears became indistinguishable from ink. Still weeping, she collapsed into a heap, whole body shuddering. Distressed and destitute, she squeezed her eyes shut. Please make it stop! Don't let it eat me alive! I don't want to fade away….
She didn't want to inhale again, afraid that she would find the darkness to be suffocating her. But that next breath did come and with it came a mouthful of dust. Startled, she hacked and coughed to clear her throat. She couldn't help but notice her legs were tingling, and underneath that crawling sensation she could feel grains of sand under them. When she used her arms to prop herself upright, her palms came in contact with the same granules. Where did all of this sand come from? Curiosity once more triumphed over fear and she lifted her head to take inventory of her surroundings. To her utter bewilderment, her location had completely changed. She was in a real place now, not hovering in a void. Her body had been sprawled on a desolate, sand-covered stretch of road. Had she fallen? A dull ache in her muscles accompanied that consideration, and she assumed she must have. Feeling bolder now, she decided to test her physical fortitude by pushing herself to her feet. After a few moments of unsure swaying, she managed to find her balance. Absentmindedly, she dusted gravel and dirt from her jeans. She was wearing jeans now. And sneakers, she noted. A black t-shirt, as well - one that appeared to have a fresh stain on it. Whatever she had encountered had left a damp patch just over her left breast. Quizzically, she placed a hand over the glaring dark patch, only to observe that whatever had left it was under her shirt. She glanced around self-consciously before sliding a hand under the collar of her shirt. Immediately she retracted it. It came out sticky. Blood. She was bleeding. Other than the soreness in her joints, though, she felt no pain. Her brows furrowed, and she yanked the collar of her shirt down to reveal a large puncture wound over her heart, which was dripping blood. How did that happen?
Her reaction was more inquisitive than distressed. With a minute frown she pressed her palm more roughly against the injury. In movies, pressure helped stop bleeding, she recalled. But the blood merely oozed around her hand and through her fingers. Vaguely, she wondered if she should find a hospital. You could become weak and disoriented from loss of blood. You could die. She felt fine, though. She didn't want to go to a hospital, really. She would rather investigate.
Looking down the road, she could only see the hazy yellow horizon. There was no sun. Instead, the entire scarlet sky seemed to be lit from behind. Every now and then a citrine cloud would float unhurriedly past, but other than that the atmosphere was vacant. No birds. A glance to either side revealed that she was surrounded by buildings; strange, inverted buildings. All of their piping and wiring had been incorporated into the outer walls of the structures. On the whole, they were obsidian in color, though every so often the black was punctuated by a murky shade of gray. Her eyes followed their rigid contours upwards, to where they raked the sky like rotted teeth. Though there were no signs of disrepair, she was given the strong impression that they were vacant. Where were all the people? Were there even people here? On first glimpse the street appeared to be deserted. Desdemona was prepared to settle on this conclusion, when a shimmer of movement caught her eye. It was not a shadow darting behind a building, but a flicker in midair. She concentrated on the location of the sighting, squinted her eyes. She was not alone. When she focused intensely, she saw that she was surrounded by a horde of people, all shuffling in different directions up and down the street. Well, she couldn't really call them people. They were more like blurry, translucent shadows in the shape of people. They filtered in and out of doors, stealthily weaving around her as they moved. Though she was standing confounded in the center of the street, none of the specters paused in their daily activities to notice her. Even those that filtered around her took no notice.
"Hello?" Her voice split the silence. From what she could see, she garnered no response. The ethereal figures continued along their individual tangents, not even bothering to acknowledge her. "Hello!" She repeated, this time louder, more assertively. No response. Frustrated now, she raised her voice further. "Can anyone hear me? Where am I? HELLO?"
When still she was ignored by the surrounding masses, she reached out to grab the arm of a passerby. "Sir? Can you tell me where I am?" She demanded, but she was not even rewarded with a turn of a head. The man, she was fairly certain it was a man, kept on walking as if he could not feel her grip on his arm. Flustered, she loped after him, taking sizeable steps that allowed her to position herself directly in his path "Please! I could really use your help! CAN SOMEONE HELP ME?" She was screaming now, gripped by the understanding that no one could hear her, could see her. Even the man she had addressed, whom she now seized violently by the shoulders, showed no sign of comprehending her presence. A torrid anger, warmer than the hot blood dripping from her chest, snaked its way through her abdomen, boiled in her stomach. Led by this sudden rage, she shook the being in her hand like a ragdoll, all the while his feet moving as if he was continuing his stroll. "LOOK AT ME, GODDAMMIT! LOOKATME! I'M RIGHT HERE! WHY WON'T YOU LOOK AT ME?"
No one answered. No one dignified her with a response. But something took notice. These were not the same as the obscure blots shuffling down the street. They were sharp, dark. She didn't need to squint to see them. Their shapes cut across the side of the nearby edifices like ebony gashes. They writhed and gnashed their teeth at her, their eyes glowed a sickly red. At first she thought the beasts might be contained to their respective walls, from which they watched her hungrily. Their bloody eyes and the growls that were now rising up from the ground set her on edge and, after a moment of watching them warily, she spun around and strode quickly away. When she chanced a quick look over her shoulder she saw the shadows springing from the architecture and out into the street in the shape of vicious black hounds, composed and of shadow and black fire. A chilling howl shook the heavy air and the ground trembled with a stampede of paw-steps. The massive hellions were charging towards her in a dark, enormous wave. She couldn't count them; they kept bleeding in and out of each other as they ran. The only features that she could derive from the tumbling mass were luminous red eyes and glistening white teeth. They were the servants of nothingness, and they craved her.
As the streets became awash with black she stood there, stupefied, staring blankly as the monstrosities lunged over her. Only when the pack was looming over her did she regain the capacity to run. And run she did. She flew down the streets with the minions of pandemonium nipping at her heels. Adrenaline shot through her veins, giving her the energy to run. The world blurred around her. All she could hear, feel, was the beating of her own heart and the pounding on the ground behind her. As she dashed past more building facades more beasts with dripping jaws and glowing eyes peeled themselves off the walls, joining the pursuit. The sight gave her a second burst of energy, forced her heart to pump a little faster. Warm blood spilled from the wound in her chest, soaking her shirt and dripping down her stomach. She couldn't run forever. She knew that. Eventually they would overtake her, sink their teeth into her and leave swirling black vortexes in her flesh. But she couldn't make herself stop running. No matter how her lungs burned or how her muscles cried she had to keep going. While her body begged her to surrender, to fall into the blackness that followed her, her brain was screaming even louder. RUNRUNRUN. DON'TLETTHEMCATCHYOU! Every second she could delay the inevitable was worth the pain it cost. DON'TFADEAWAY! Her movements were becoming less graceful, though. As the terror and panic wafted into her body she began to lose control of her movement. She fell, collapsed into the dirt. GETUP! The first teeth and claws bit into her leg and she screamed aloud. Her free hands clawed the ground frantically, tried to pull herself out of the churning chaos behind her. "NOOO!"
And just as her body began to shudder in resignation, as her eyes closed, she felt her hands behind grabbed. Something was dragging her. Another hellhound? She didn't want to look, didn't want to see her flesh being ripped from her body. She wouldn't watch as she evaporated into nothingness. Slowly, though, she felt the sharp agony recede down her leg, until there was nothing left but the presumption that once she must have felt pain. Wary, but overjoyed to still be sentient, she turned her face skyward. She was alone on the street again. The hounds had vanished. Standing before her, akimbo, was a formidable looking woman with scars licking down the side of her body. No blood gushed from her wounds though, as they did from Desdemona's. The only trace of crimson trickled from underneath a black eye-patch marked with a red cross. She was lying at the new arrival's leather boots and staring up at her. She wasn't sure whether to be afraid or not. She didn't feel afraid. There were so many words that tumbled around in her brain, so many questions, but when she opened her mouth the only syllable that escaped was: "Huh?"
The woman cracked a smile. "Huh yourself."
Unaware how silly she looked, sprawled on the ground, filthy and bleeding, Desdemona lay motionless. Her eyes flicked upwards, absorbing her savior's tight leather pants, maroon bodice, and dark, though not black, hair. Her remaining hazel eye bore into her, made her flinch. "You can… see me?"
"Well, if I couldn't this conversation might seem a little ridiculous."
Desdemona contemplated this. Still staring up at the woman, she asked cautiously, "Did the Nothing-Beast take your eye, too?" She gestured towards the eye-patch that seemed to be secreting blood.
The female's slender eyebrows arched. "What? The nothing beast...? No." She looked confused.
"Oh…." Desdemona looked down at the ground, then back up. "Then what did?"
There was a wry chuckle. "A man. Just a man."
"Oh." She repeated. There was a momentary lapse in the conversation. "It took my heart, you know. The Nothing-Beast. Took it and replaced it with a black, ravenous monster that wants to eat me alive."
For another long moment, they looked at each other in silence. Then the woman began to chortle, seeming genuinely amused. This grew into raucous laughter. Desdemona didn't see what was so funny, but she found herself giggling along with her. They both were gripped by hilarious hysteria, struck by the absurdity of their situation. Tears welled in the corner of Desdemona's eyes while her companion held her stomach. It took them several seconds, or maybe it was minutes, or hours, to regain their composure. As she gasped for breath, she pushed herself into a sitting position. Wiping her eyes and inhaling a several times for good measure she managed to ask, in a bit of a daze, "Where are we?"
"Now you're asking the right questions!" The woman seemed pleased.
"So… is this death?"
She shook her head and Desdemona intently studied the ways her scars pulled taught when her neck flexed. "No. This isn't death. This is life. Your life. At least, it is now."
"So…" Desdemona glanced around herself, feeling secure enough to be curious once more, "I didn't die?"
Her acquaintance responded with humor in her voice, as if she was explaining something to a child. "No. sweetie. You didn't die. Though, that is a nasty scratch. What was it, a bullet?"
Peering down at the sucking hole in her chest, she had to contemplate this. She tried to summon the memory of what had happened to her. She could feel it there, crouching in the back of her mind, but when she reached it, it was foggy and difficult to comprehend. "No… No, it wasn't a bullet. I think it was… a pen."
"Pen, huh? Not your usual choice of weapon. But whatever, I won't judge. It didn't kill you. It just… broke you. Something terrible happened to you, something so horrible that it shattered you. You are now disillusioned to all of the glory you see around you." She spread out her arms, as if to display the topsy-turvy world.
Desdemona followed the contours of her arms. "But… what is this?"
"This is the world, hon. It's just… different. Maybe this is the way the world really is. Maybe it's just the way we see it now. It's a sort of in between, I guess. It's not pretty, I know. In fact, it's a pretty awful way to live. Luckily most people aren't here long."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, remember those things that attacked you?"
Desdemona cringed. "Yes. What are they?"
The woman shrugged. "Everything. And Nothing. They're whatever you think they are, really. Seems like it's different for everyone. If you're lucky, you'll stay under their radar. I wouldn't recommend making a scene, though. When you try to interact with the real people, those shadow people you see, it attracts them. If you're not so lucky, they'll catch you and suck you in. They drain you of everything, until you become nothing. You just stop existing. If you manage to evade them, though, you get to stay a little longer. From what I've gathered you stick around until the last person in the real world forgets about you. Then you just fade away."
A knot formed in Desdemona's stomach. "Oh…." Neither of those options sounded appealing. Her throat tightened no matter which one she contemplated. So she hadn't disappeared. Not yet, at least.
Apparently ignoring her distress, the other woman grabbed Desdemona's arm and pulled her upright. "C'mon, now, let's get out of the street, eh?"
Desdemona was still too disoriented to do anything but nod. Taking this as a sign of compliance, the woman led her down the street and into one of the lackluster buildings. The interior was just as disheveled as the exterior suggested. Tables and chairs lay in shambles atop the curling floorboards. Papers were scattered around the premises and there had been no obvious attempts to clean up. Despite the structure's industrial appearance, the room appeared to be a sort of neglected bar. There was a dusty wooden counter set in front of shelves, upon which sat a myriad of empty bottles. The woman stepped behind the bar and planted her elbows on the dark wood, gazing at Desdemona as she wandered around the establishment. Finally, after inspecting the rectangular room for a moment or so, Desdemona looked back at her with rekindled interest. "Who are you?"
The woman had plucked a dusty glass from the shelf and located a bottle that still had a small trace of liquid lingering at the bottom. As she answered, she poured herself some of the drink. "The name's Marlene. You?"
"Desdemona. But… people don't usually call me that. It's kind of a mouthful. Dez or Dezzy work just as well."
Marlene nodded to indicate that she was listening. "Dezzy it is then." She took a quick swig from her glass before brandishing it towards Desdemona. "Well then, Dezzy, care for a drink."
"Err… No thank you." She answered decidedly. She was already addled, and she was sure imbibing some unknown substance would only serve to further her confusion. Marlene seemed unfazed by her response and took another swallow. Eyeing her with interest, Desdemona ventured to ask, "So… why are you still here? I mean, it seems like you've been here a while. You know a lot about this place."
Marlene chuckled dryly. "I guess there's still somebody out there thinking of me."
"Oh." A quick flicker of disappointment possessed Desdemona's face. "I thought maybe there was some way to… you know… keep people from forgetting about you. There isn't, is there?"
"Not that I know." Marlene surveyed her with sudden suspicion.
"I see…" Desdemona shifted uncomfortably, feeling suddenly foolish under the stern gaze of the other woman.
Marlene pursed her lips. "But there is someone who does know." "But you just said you didn't know-"
"I don't." Marlene cut her off. "But he does."
Once again, Desdemona seemed baffled. "If there's a way, why not learn it? Why not use it? You don't want to disappear, do you?"
Shaking her head in a way that suggested Desdemona's naivety, Marlene replied, "Because that's not the way it's supposed to work. We live, we die. That's the game. It's not fair for us to cheat."
"Why not?" Desdemona demanded, suddenly offended. "It's not fair that we have to be forgotten, that we have to fade away!"
"Because it's not about us anymore. That's why not." Marlene countered. "We're here, and there's nothing we can do about that. But there's still a whole wide world of people out there, people who deserve to get on with their lives, people who can still enjoy the real world. When we try to force ourselves back into it, we're disrupting those people, haunting them, as it were."
"All the art of living," Marlene interrupted again, this time rather serenely, "Lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on." Her single, sharp eye alighted on Desdemona's own. "That's Henry Ellis, by the way. In any case, living here is no prize. This place wasn't meant for human inhabitance."
Desdemona could hear old wisdom in the woman's raspy voice, but fear egged her onwards. "But how do you know what comes next is any better? What if you just… stop being? What if it's no different being eaten alive by those monsters?"
Marlene's smile took on an inflection of sympathy. "Have a little faith, dear."
Clearly not satisfied with this answer, Desdemona folded her arms over her chest, wincing as she felt the dampness of her shirt. "Can you tell me where to find him? The man who knows how?"
Marlene sighed, pushing her glass away from her with sudden distaste. "I can. I wouldn't recommend it, though. It's like I told you before – the more you reach back to the real world, the more you call attention to yourself. You're at risk of meeting up with Them again. Besides, he's not particularly stable. He's reckless."
Marlene put her arms up halfway in surrender. "Fine. Whatever you want. If you're looking for Cyrus, you just have to go up." She pointed a finger towards the ceiling. "Stairway's in the back."
As Desdemona turned and stomped towards the rickety set of steps, Marlene added, "I'll say it again, Desdemona. Have a little faith."
By that time her words were obscured by the falling of Desdemona's sneakers as she trudged up the stairs. Behind her, Marlene planted her elbows again on the bar and sighed.
The stairwell was barely lit, and Desdemona had to fumble around for the railing while she waited for her eyes to adjust. She carefully felt for each raised step with her foot before putting any weight on it. The stairway moaned unhappily at the undesired weight. It swayed against her, as if it had been poorly affixed to the wall. Both of her hands grasped the railing as she heaved herself up. When she finally reached the first landing she had gained the ability to peer through the darkness. She discovered that the stairs were constructed out of splintering wood and appeared to have no support beams holding them in place. As her gaze turned upwards she was struck by awe at the yawning chasm above her. The wavering staircase spiraled upwards until it became swallowed by the darkness. It was dizzying and sickening to try and follow the stairs into the pitch, so she stopped. Instead, she focused on each step as she climbed, occasionally pausing to allow the staircase to settle and grow accustomed to bearing her. Putting down one foot after another ultimately led her to the second floor. She stood on a sort of patio outside the single room contained in the space. It was blocked by a heavy metal door with a single window as a portal into the area. Imagining that she saw a dim glow from within, Desdemona pressed her face to the glass pane. There, shrouded in shadows, was an ancient dentist's chair. Stuffing was leaking out through rips in the vinyl, and the wheeled carts filled with surgical implements that surrounded the chair had begun to rust. The light hovering over the chair drooped like a wilted flower. The glimmer of light she had seen originated from the floor, where a drill was spinning of its own accord, flopping about on the floor and spitting sparks in every direction. Other than that, the room was motionless, forgotten. Desdemona shuddered and moved on.
Onward and upward she went. The skyscraper was like a huge, utilitarian dollhouse. Enough venues to sustain an entire city appeared to be concealed within its walls. The more steps she ascended, the more haunting images of abandoned facilities she encountered. On the third floor was a neglected boutique cluttered by blank-faced mannequins in moth-eaten sweaters, on the fourth a factory whose assembly lines had long ago been halted with packages still moldering on the belts of machines. The fifth floor contained a chapel littered with brightly colored shards, the remains of shattered stained glass windows. The more flights she surmounted, the less attention she paid to the attributes of the individual levels. An old classroom with a chalkboard that dripped blood, the doors of cages in a disused animal shelter swinging lazily on their hinges, all blew past her in what seem like seconds as she followed the trail of the winding staircase. All she needed to glean from these recesses was that they were empty, forgotten. Not what she was searching for. She had no time to ogle; she could be short on it already. How long until the last people on earth bleached her existence from their minds? She was alone, so alone, with only passing acquaintances that might possibly hold her face in mind. Perhaps that was the doing of the Nothing-Beast. There was one room, however, that gave her pause. She had stopped counting the flights as she went, so there was no way to say where it ranked in the vertical hierarchy of the superstructure. It was a chamber much like the one she had inhabited in the asylum. She had been in an asylum? Yes… that was right. That was where she had been stabbed with a pen. But rather than a rumpled bed, in the center of the room there was a pine box upon a steel table. Tendrils of comforting warmth crept from it, enticed her to come closer. And closer she walked, through the door, to the edge of the table, until she could peer into the open casket. A familiar face gazed back at her sadly with soft, living eyes. The live soul had been chained into the position of a corpse -hands folded over chest - and had an expression of great apprehension. It was a face she knew, one that was inviting despite the anxiety it betrayed. She felt so at home. A large part of her wanted to sit, and stay a while with this old friend whom she could not quite recall. How bad would it really be to wait for the end with someone who inspired such a feeling of unspeakable love?
No. That was not an option. It took all of her remaining will power to break from the hypnotic hex the room had cast upon her. Rousing herself, she plodded towards the door, casting a weary expression at her companion. Momentarily, she contemplated freeing him from his chains, but realized that it would be impossible. "I'll come back." She promised in a small, sad voice before breezing through the door. Another day. Another day. She hoped he understood.
And then she was on the stairs again, gripped by a sense of sudden urgency. Where the flurry of energy had sprung from she could not guess, but it urged her higher and higher. Soon she was sprinting, blood pounding in her ears. Why was she running? She had to run. RUNRUNRUN. Her body must have suspected what her mind could not, for when she caught a glimpse of her feet she could see the stairway was melting beneath them. She bolted, scrambled upwards to outrun the dissolution. This high up it was too dark to see. All she could do was dash towards the light. There was a light? YES! There was a light. RUNRUNRUN. DON'T FALL. DON'T FADE AWAY! Her own thoughts were deafening her as she burst through a set of double doors.
She was standing on a rooftop, looking out over the dilapidated wonderland. Her pants died in her lungs and she stepped forwards to absorb the bird's-eye view of the city. She was not alone. A silhouette interrupted her view of the horizon. It was a man in a fedora standing spread-eagle, teetering on the ledge of the building. His eyes were closed in a rapturous expression while a hot wind, like the breath of a starving beast, washed over them and caused his rumpled button-down shirt and loose tie to billow in the breeze. Desdemona cleared her throat quietly, afraid that even the slightest sound might dislodge him from his perch. "Are you…" she paused and grasped for the name Marlene had used, "Cyrus?"
"Have you ever wondered," He responded in a soothing, southern drawl, "Standing on a ledge like this, if the few seconds of falling might be worth hitting the ground at the end?"
She regarded him, perturbed. "No," She ventured hesitantly, "I can't say that I have… though that doesn't quite answer my question."
"No," he mused thoughtfully, "I suppose you wouldn't have." With the heave of a sigh he stepped gracefully onto the solid roof and inspected her with now-open eyes. They were a pale mossy green, unlike Desdemona's darker orbs. A slow wind buffed the curling blonde hair beneath his cap, and she had to admit that he was rather handsome. He was dressed well, if a bit sloppily, and she noted that there didn't appear to be anything wrong with him. Until, of course, he removed his black fedora and held it to his chest and performed a sweeping bow, revealing that, beneath hair matted with blood, the back of his skull had been crushed in. "Cyrus Montagne," He declared, righting himself and replacing his hat, "At your service."
"Desdemona," She returned, trying to conjure a smile. "I… uh… well, Marlene sent me. She said that you could help me… help me stay alive…"
Cyrus looked upon her, donning a lopsided grin. "Ah, Marlene. My mother taught me never to speak ill of women, but she can be a bit of a killjoy, can't she?"
"A little bit," Dez admitted with a shrug. "She told me to find you. I… I don't want to be forgotten. I don't want to disappear. That can't be my fate, it just can't."
"We make our own fate." Cyrus corrected gently. "I supposed she warned it can be a bit… risky."
Desdemona nodded. "Yes. She called you reckless."
Cyrus tossed his head back and laughed heartily. "That does sound like her." He commented. "Well, I suppose we should get started right away then. Follow me!" He beckoned with a flutter of his hand, moving towards the doors.
Desdemona loped after him. "I'm afraid we can't go that way!" She sputtered apologetically. "The stairs kind of… melted."
To her surprise, the man laughed again. "Have they gone and melted again?" He asked, as if an entire staircase dissolving under unsuspecting shoes was the most natural thing in the world. "I suppose we'll have to take the elevator."
"There's any elevator?"
"Of course there's an elevator. This isn't the dark ages. But it only goes down." Cyrus chortled good-naturedly.
"That doesn't make much sense."
"It doesn't have to."
He escorted her to the side of the building where a glass box suspended on by a pulley was hovering. Without trepidation, Cyrus pushed his way through the sliding doorway and she followed. "Going down!" His voice was merry.
"Going" was too mild a verb to describe what happened next. They didn't "go" down, they plummeted. Desdemona gripped the walls in terror but Cyrus merely stood stoically, even withdrawing a pocket-watch from the pocket of his pants and checking the time as they dropped. The elevator smashed into the ground with a resounding "CRACK!" and Desdemona was amazed that neither of them had been killed. Apparently unaware that he had just tumbled from the top of a monstrous building in a glass death-trap, Cyrus stepped out into the small crater that their impact had created. Feeling as if her stomach might be a couple stories behind her, Desdemona stumbled out into the ruddy light. She swallowed hard, reviewing the contraption they had just ridden. It sat in a heap of rubble on the ground. "What happens to it now?" She had the presence of mind to ask.
Cyrus shrugged. "It keeps going down. Until it goes so far down that it's back at the top."
Staring at him, Desdemona commented, "You're a little bit mad, aren't you?"
"Me? Not in the slightest." Cyrus rebutted in a jolly tone. "You, though, I can't be sure about."
Desdemona decided to let this slide. Crazy or not, she would need his help if she wanted to combat her impending demise. Still, a portion of her hoped that their exposure would not have to be prolonged. Recognizing the street she had fled what felt like days earlier, she forayed out into the road and glanced about her. "So…" She began, still searching for any trace that the hounds of hades that had pursued her so vehemently before, "How do you do it? Contact people, I mean? Is there a spell to chant? Should I write something?"
Cyrus was caught in a guffaw. "Of course not. Now you do sound like a lunatic." He waved her off, "No, no, nothing like that."
Desdemona bit the side of her cheek in mild irritation, but said nothing. "Then how?"
"Simple enough," he replied, joining her in the center of the street. A look of intense concentration suddenly covered his face, eliminating all traces of his laughter. "What you need to do is try to concentrate every single atom of your existence into one touch. Every thought you've ever had, every emotion you've ever felt, every step you've ever taken. All at once. Like so." Suddenly, with astounding speed and skill, he lashed out with one hand, catching one of the shadowy walkers straight in the face. As the man, as it was revealed to be, stumbled backwards his edges became more pronounced, like the slobbering beasts that lived on the walls. Black as pitch now, the fellow, who had been knocked onto his rear by the blow, looked wildly around him, scratching his head. For a long moment he and Cyrus locked eyes. Seconds fell away and eventually the man stood up, slowly diluting back into a barely-visible form, and went on his merry way.
For a moment she was in awe, but soon she swallowed that admiration and tried to feed her confidence. "That didn't seem too terribly difficult."
"So you would assume," Cyrus's eyes betrayed the slight condescension in his words. "I suppose I should warn you, Extra time in this world is not without a price." His posture became stiff and his expression grave. "To really connect with a person in the real world you have to put a little piece of yourself into to them, a little candle they can carry with them until it burns itself out. You don't get that part back. You never do. It's nothing physical, you see, but you never feel quite whole again afterwards."
Desdemona thought she detected something rather wistful in his voice as he spoke. She could all but see him conjuring a memory of his former self. She began to wonder what he had been like alive, what he had been like whole. It made her hesitate. Was she really willing to part with a sliver of herself? She didn't want to. The thought brought a lump to her throat. But she was so scared, so scared. She didn't want to be alone. She wanted someone to connect with, someone that could see her and that she could see in turn. And if everyone forgot her? She would be all on her own, and there would be nothing to stop her from being sucked into a vacuum of nothingness. That fear was what pushed her. She was afraid to be alone.
"Fine." Her tone spoke of more resolve than she held within her.
By the time she spoke Cyrus has regained his happy-go-lucky demeanor. "Well then, give it a go!"
She inhaled a gulp of air, steeling herself. She attempted to assume the same expression of cool intent that Cyrus had possessed, unaware that she looked a bit dope-ish in doing so. It was difficult to pay no attention to her tutor who was watching her with a clearly amused expression on his face. Biting her lip and closing her eyes she mustered all of the energy from the depths of her body, trying to press it all into the palm of her hand. Finally satisfied that she had channeled enough of her innermost thoughts, she reached out her lightly calloused hand and touched someone's back.
"S'all right, S'all right." Cyrus comforted. "You're not gonna get it on your first time. Just try again." He resumed observing her expectantly.
Under his watchful eye, Desdemona started to obey. That was, until she caught a simple flicker on the side of the building that was just too black.
"Oh god, no!"
The enormous dogs of black fire and smoke were unhooking themselves from the walls, the windows, even from the street, churning together in a chaotic mass of consumption. "CYRUS!" She screamed as loud as her vocal cords would allow. Terror clawed at her stomach when he didn't budge. Confronted by the pack of fiends he glanced over his shoulder and offered her a lopsided smile. "Go on, run. You can't fight them." He was calm as they drew ever closer. She stood frozen, her heart in her throat, her feet having taken root on the ground.
"I would run now, cher!"
The tide of ebony fury and hunger crashed over him, and it was only that sight that instilled her with enough fear to jar her from her place. Again she was running, feat pounding, heart racing, adrenaline pumping. At least this time she was aware of what she was running from. Sadly, that didn't make the experience any less terrifying. Already her chest was starting to burn and her throat was constricting. Her sneakers did little to absorb the shock of her feet repeatedly slamming against the ground and the balls of those appendages begged for reprieve. Tears streaked down her face as she ran and hit the ground as black ink. They clouded her vision, making it impossible to chart her course. Somehow she could tell that the gaping wound over her heart was gushing inky darkness as well. That vile black fluid was spreading across her flesh, corroding it and eating it away. And, through whatever blurry vision she had left, she kept seeing flashes of Cyrus, jumbled images that didn't make sense – pictures of him, hanging from the ceiling by his feet against a stark white background, wrapped up in black barbed wire and blindfolded. He still smiled that same, unnerving smile. The clearer this image became in her mind the more bile welled in her throat. And suddenly she was running on nothing, just vacantness. There were no hellhounds behind her or in front of her, there was nothing anywhere. Or maybe there were things, lurking just beyond the borders of her comprehension. Unwilling to run any more she collapsed. One way or another it always ended like this, with her crouching on the ground, ready to be dragged into the abyss.
She vomited. The taste was so foul that she had to spit a few times to rid herself of it. Her eyelashes fluttered rapidly to clean tears from her eyes. A strange feeling of déjà vu lingering around her, she found herself not to be in a pit of unending oblivion, but back on the road, only meters from where she had left Cyrus. The dogs were gone, leaving no trace behind them but the lingering stench of fear. Knitting her brow together and squinting into the distance, she discovered one more remnant: Cyrus's fedora, with a notch in the rim that had never been there before. She felt ill again, but managed to push herself to her feet. Whatever force had been guiding her thus far was pulling her strings again, tugging her towards the hat. By some miracle she managed to stagger over to it without being sick a second time. The world was spinning, and she still felt like breaking down into tears. Not that that would have been any help. In fact, it probably would have only called down hell's wrath on her again. Maybe she deserved it this time. Had Cyrus been consumed because of her? Was his death on her shoulders? The questions made her shudder. Somehow, though, it felt as though if she could only make it to his hat, she would be alright. She was so close. Her fingers reached out to touch it -
- And were met by another set of fingers. She looked up, bewildered, expecting to see Marlene. The face she alighted on, however, was even more familiar, in an eerie way. She stood there, just barely touching the hand of a tall, slender woman with sharp features and short, silver hair. Her pupils dilated and she sat in dead silence for a long time. She spent the equivalent of eons staring into those keen, yellow eyes before saying, voice dry and cracking, "You're here…."
The woman didn't seem to understand, and blinked. After a moment of fumbling with her words she straightened up, forgoing her grab for the fedora. Unable to summon any other words she gestured awkwardly and asked, "Is that your hat."
Desdemona gawked at her for a moment longer before dipping her head to stare fixatedly at the ground. What did she say? "No…" She finally settled on. "No, it's not my hat. But it belonged to… a friend." Though she had known Cyrus only several minutes, those words felt right rolling off of her tongue.
"Oh." The girl said simply. "Then I suppose you should have it."
"Yeah…." The syllable was half-hearted. She scooped the cap off the ground and held it with a hand on either side of the brim. She shifted her weight awkwardly from foot to foot.
The silver-haired woman opened her mouth as if to speak, then closed it again. She looked to be groping around for words. "Do you… know me?" The question was a generally curious one.
Desdemona paused for a moment, contemplative. Did she know her? It felt like she had once, but it had been in another life. Why couldn't she remember? Everything was pixelated and blurry in her memory. It seemed that the harder she tried to illuminate certain details the more she ruined the film that was her recollection. "No. I don't think I do. What's your name?"
The tiniest trace of a smile possessed her face. "Peregrine."
"Peregrine, huh?" Desdemona's voice was overly-amicable. Perhaps she didn't know this Peregrine, but she felt that she wanted to. Maybe they had been friends at one point or another. "I'm Desdemona. It's nice to meet you."
"It's nice to meet you too." Peregrine returned politely. As she turned her head to glance around, Desdemona could see bruises on her neck past the collar of her red pea-coat. She thought to ask what had happened, but then remembered Marlene's missing eye, Cyrus's fractured skull, and her own bleeding gash.
"Where are we?" Peregrine asked abruptly, not seeming to notice Desdemona's intense interest.
"Oh, this?" Desdemona collected herself a bit. "This is… I don't really know how to describe it. It's a place where you go when you're not dead, but you're dead to the world and… I'm really not very good at describing things like this verbally, but I know someone who can tell you. C'mon."
"That would be nice," Peregrine agreed. When she positioned herself to follow Dezzy, it became apparent that she was almost a head taller than the other woman. Desdemona seemed unaware of her comrade's towering height, and took her motion as permission to proceed. Before doing so, however, she took the hat she had been carrying and placed it on her head. Despite the blood that still caked the back of the rim, she thought it was fitting. After a brief moment of consideration, she thought she had located the building where Marlene had first taken her. "It's over this way I think." In an effort not to make the stroll uncomfortable for her newfound partner she took long, exaggerated strides. Peregrine followed dutifully.
"So…" Desdemona made her best attempt to strike up a conversation, "Do you remember what happened to you?" Not a cheerful topic, but one that they could both relate to, she supposed. All the while they were walking she kept peeking over her shoulder at Peregrine. There was a certain feature to that face that kept her from holding it in her memory. Even when she thought she had totally memorized it, she would turn around and it would distort, melt away, like candle wax. All she wanted to do was remember.
Peregrine shrugged. "A bit. I remember I tried to kill myself."
To her own surprise, Desdemona took this in stride, as if she had known the answer when she asked. "Why?" She ventured.
"I couldn't sleep," Peregrine answered, turning her head to stare woefully at the horizon. "I was so tired… just so tired. And, since I was all alone I figured, who would care? Who would even notice? Nobody got hurt, and I would finally get to rest."
"Oh," Desdemona mouthed. "So you weren't afraid?"
"I don't know." Before they could reach the structure, Desdemona saw a shape emerging from the door. She immediately recognized the black eye-patch and burgundy bodice. "Marlene!" She called, using this as an excuse to end the rather depressing conversation. "Over here! I found someone else!"
Marlene turned in the direction of the voices. At first she waved. Then her eyes fell on the hat Desdemona wore, then on Peregrine, and her expression turned to one of absolute horror.
She shrieked. "WHY WOULD YOU BRING THAT THING HERE?"
"What do you mean?" Desdemona called, but already Marlene's voice was fading. The distance between them stretched out until they might as well have been on two different sides of a mile long tunnel. Blood rushing a bit faster; wound bleeding a bit heavier, Desdemona craned her neck to look at Peregrine, but wheeled around in response to what she saw. Suddenly the woman's features were more vivid. The lines of her face had a greater contrast so that, rather than slipping in and out of her mind as easily as a breath of air, they were burned into her memory. A lunatic's smile curled across Peregrine's face and she continued to walk forward, towards Desdemona. A pair of axe-like gray wings with feathers of razor blades and pen nibs dragged on the ground behind her. Desdemona made to run – that was what she was good at – but Peregrine was faster, lunging at her and pinning her to the ground. Desdemona screamed.
"Screaming won't help you!" Peregrine, or whatever it was that had taken her shape, hissed. Desdemona squirmed under her titanium grip, mortified. The dark bruises that had marred the woman's pale neck were morphing, rearranging into words, the very words that she had been writing all of her life, the words she had written to get the nothingness out her. Ink also dribbled around her lips, sinking in to form tattoos like the gnashing teeth of the hounds on Peregrine's jaw. Then she laughed. Her cackle was such a maddening sound that almost cracked the universe.
"You!" Desdemona accused. "You're one of them!" Still writhing and flailing, struggling to free herself.
"Astute observation," Peregrine complimented wickedly. "I'm here to suck up whatever tiny little pieces you've left for me. You're food for dogs, now. Lucky for you, I have fun playing with my food!"
"I know who you are! I know what you're trying to do!" Dez howled at her. The memories were flooding back to her now: a limp young girl hanging from the ceiling, the image of a potter's field full of unmarked headstones, a hospital room… The protective dam had been broken inside her head. "I should have known!" The night she had killed herself, stabbed a pen into her heart. The Nothing-Beast had been trying to consume her then, but it was her own actions that had allowed it to succeed. She had been so afraid, so afraid, and it had used that fear. "I should have known when I first saw you here. The darkness… it takes the form of whatever you're afraid of! It is whatever you think it is! I WON'T LET YOU MAKE ME DISAPPEAR!"
Peregrine was still pinning her to the ground, ink was dripping from her curved teeth like saliva. There was a chuckle in her throat so deep that it shook them both, shook the very ground the sat on. "You can certainly try. But I know a little secret about you. You want me to do it! You want me to kill you. Do you know why? Because you're afraid to be forgotten, afraid to be alone!" She spat in Desdemona's face. "You see you're wrong, dear Desdemona. I'm not what you're most afraid of. Little Per isn't your worst nightmare. You are. Because no one loves little Dezzy. No one will ever love little Dezzy. You're going to die alone, you hear me, alone! And everyone will forget your name, your face, and it will be like you never existed at all! Isn't this preferable? Burning out rather than slowly dying in the minds of other people?" She leaned down so that her face was inches from Desdemona's. She could feel her hot breath on her skin. "Now be a good girl and lay still." There was a horrible sensation, like slowly being pulled apart. She was drinking in everything there was left of that person that used to be Desdemona.
"NO!" Desdemona shrieked, closing her eyes, fighting, fighting. "I DON'T WANT TO DIE!"
More laughter. That laughter was wrapping around her sucking her in. NONONONONO!IDON'TWANTTOFADEAWAYIDON'TWANTTOFADEAWAY!IWANTTOLIVE!"
And suddenly something warm splattered in her face. Then silence. With her remaining strength, Desdemona pried her eyes open, whole body trembling. Peregrine was still on top of her, but there was real, red blood trickling from her mouth. Standing even above her was Marlene, who had pulled some sort of sharpened steel implement from one of the buildings and shoved it into Peregrine's spine, between her lungs. Another few drops of blood splattered on Desdemona's face. Then the creature's whole body began to unravel, separating into tentacles and tendrils of shadowy smoke that drifted skyward until she was nothing more than a few snaking shadows in the air.
"Marlene…" Desdemona choked as her heavily scarred savior kneeled over her. "Thank you…" "It's okay, Dezzy." Marlene muttered in a soothing voice, running a hand through her hair. "It's going to be okay." Desdemona tried to smile, but it faltered. She was still being violently yanked out of her body, still fading away. "I… I don't want to disappear…"
I don't want to disappear….
I don't want to….
Drip.What was that dripping? Desdemona groaned and blinked her eyes open. Immediately, she closed them again. Everything was white. It was so bright. More slowly this time, she lifted her heavy lids. She was in a white room. White walls, white curtains, even a white overhead lamp. The dripping was coming from an IV bag attached by a tube to one of her arms. Suddenly aware of how uncomfortable she was, she tried to roll over. She couldn't. When she managed to turn her head she found that there were leather wrist-restraints holding her to the bed. There was some sort of sticky, clingy, bandage over her left breast. Other than that all she could feel was the pounding of her head.
"Ah, good, you're awake."
She turned her head to the other side. There was a female doctor dressed in a finely pressed white coat. She had a clipboard in front of her and was watching a small monitor while jotting down Desdemona's vitals.
"Yeah, I guess so," Desdemona responded. Her voice was raspy and crackling from the dryness in her throat.
The doctor nodded. "I'm glad to see you're okay. You gave us quite a scare."
"Sorry." It didn't sound very sincere.
The woman looked unimpressed and made a note in her clipboard. "Do you know what happened to you?"
Desdemona nodded. "I stabbed myself."
"Correct. And vandalized hospital property, though that is of less import. How are you feeling?"
For the first time in months, Desdemona actually thought about this question. How was she feeling? Free. It was like she had been lugging around chains for the past year that had finally rusted away and broken off. "You know Doc? For once, I think I'm feeling okay."
Pursing her lips, the woman jotted this down. "You are aware that an incident like this means we will have to downgrade you to a lower ward. You will lose some of your privileges."
Again, she nodded. "Whatever you think is best, doctor."
"Now, Desdemona, would you like to talk about what it was that led you to attempt suicide?"
Desdemona smiled rather dryly. She cast her green eyes up at the ceiling and stared there for a long while.
"Honestly Doc, I can't remember."