The first thing Lisa Ellis became aware of was the snow. Thick flakes drifted past her face, lazily swirling in the dark winter air. She raised her head, looked up beyond the towering highrises and stared into the slate grey sky. As she gazed into the heavens, momentarily dazed as to her whereabouts, her blond hair and eyebrows grew white. Flakes melted on her face, mixing with the fresh tears that already ran down her cheeks.
Then the cold assailed her to the bone, a sharp wind gnawing at her face. The cold penetrated her night gown as she hugged her knees to her chest in a fit of uncontrollable shivering.
Finally she became aware of the freezing metal of the fire escape against her back. She could almost feel her body heat being leeched away by the cold grating and for a moment she wished she could just slip through the bars, through the street and sewers and descend into the dark nothingness that would surely provide more comfort than what her life had become.
The last thing she remembered before waking up outside was the nightmare, a vile and macabre vision of blood and demonic monsters. It was a persistent dream that had plagued her sleep ever since she was a child, but not even the haunting nightmare could compare to the waking horror of the fugue like trance that she drifted in and out of without warning. Like a sleep walker mindlessly wandering she would often find herself dazed and confused, minutes, sometimes even hours lost. For her the nightmares or fugue state wasn't the worst part, it was the what ifs? What if she slipped into a trance while working at the hospital with a patient in her care? Or worse, what if she slipped away while driving, her little girl in the backseat?
Lisa could no longer ignore the obvious any longer. Something was desperately wrong in her mind, something that had cost her her marriage, her sense of security, and if she didn't get the help she needed it would eventually cost her her sanity.
She rose shakily to her feet, the tension sluicing through her aching bones. An oily shudder coursed through her body, not from the cold, but something much more pervasive.
She felt like a criminal breaking into her own home as she climbed through the window, but it felt good to be out of the cold, to be in control, if only temporarily. She trudged through the cramped apartment to her daughters room and stood outside the door, her hand resting on the knob. She silently pushed open the door and stepped into Jenna's room, careful not to awaken her sleeping angel. Nestled underneath a Disney themed blanket her daughter slept gently through the night. She was a perfect reflection of her mothers beauty at six years old, the same golden blond hair and deep crystal blue eyes, the same heart shaped face and smile that could warm even the most frigid of winter nights. She was her world, the only thing she had left in a life where everything was being taken away. She had to get better, if not for her own sake than certainly for that of her daughters.
The enigmatic dreams, the fugue trance, all of it was surely the prelude to being institutionalized or worse – psychosis, an aneurysm, or even a brain tumor. Lisa was determined to do something, anything, about her condition. She had hit rock bottom, her fear and confusion burying her to the lowest depths. She would claw her way back to the surface towards the light, for herself and for her daughter. She placed a soft kiss on Jenna's cheek and brushed a loose strand of hair from her forehead. Mommies going to be alright. She thought wistfully. She wished that she could believe that but as she stared through the window she felt like her life had become like the blistering snow, scattering around her like ashes.
Two days later…
The cab parked outside of a modest four story brownstone. Lisa payed her fare, stepped outside and was immediately assaulted by a blustery wind. As she scurried against the bitter cold down the cobbled walkway the bare limbed trees along the sidewalk rasped and clattered like the sound of rattling bones. She stood in front of the door, knocked. Nothing. She rang the doorbell only to be greeted by more silence. Her agitation beginning to gnaw at her like the bitter cold, she began to even doubt coming to this place when the door opened and a wizened black man greeted her.
His name was Pierre Jackson, the same man Lisa had seen photos of on the internet, but what she was not prepared for was a vigorous and healthy senior. Despite being seventy years old age had not bowed his legs, stooped his back, or rounded his shoulders. He was about 5'8, his posture militarily erect in a white dress shirt, tweed jacket and sharply creased trousers. Inquisitive eyes regarded her behind thick tortoise shell glasses and his wrinkled face broke into a paternal smile that radiated youthfulness as he beckoned her out of the cold. He escorted Lisa through the foyer and into the living room, moving with the stride of someone half his age.
The living room was a surprise to her as well but belied nothing she had read about Mr. Jackson online. A deeply grooved magenta carpet dominated the length of the room with contemporary sofas and armchairs upholstered in rich creamy leather took up the center of the room. The walls were a deep hardwood adorned with various pictures of a young Pierre posing with various celebrities from times gone by. Lisa settled into one of the two armchairs facing each other across a glass coffee table.
"Thank you for seeing me Mr. Jackson, I'm kind of stuck in a tight situation and was hoping you could help me out."
"Now now my dear, an old timer like myself doesn't get many visitors these days, let alone a lovely damsel in distress like yourself." He said, smiling as he settled down into his own chair.
Lisa wringed her hands and leaned forward. It was now or never. "First I've got to know that everything I've read about you online is, well you know, true?"
"Lord, I would hope not! A wise man once said 'don't believe everything you read on the internet.' But if you want to hear it straight from the horses mouth I was born in Paris to a French mother and African American father stationed there during World War 2. My mother was a popular chanteuse singer in the Paris nightclubs who also took a fancy to sleight of hand and illusionary techniques."
"You mean magic?" Lisa asked.
He nodded. "Precisely. Me being the impressionable young lad I was wanted to learn every single last thing about magic that there was, and while my mother didn't teach me everything she knew, God rest her soul, she taught me just enough for me to start a successful career in stage magic that spanned four decades and entertained audiences across twenty countries."
"And some of your acts involved hypnosis?"
"That's right, left even the most hardened skeptics scratching their heads."
"And since you've retired you've been helping police agencies by hypnotizing witnesses to crimes so they can recall details they may have forgotten?"
"It's certainly not as exciting as my previous work." He said dismissively. "In fact they rarely call me for assistance anymore, I'm more of a last resort."
"But the cases you've worked on, it worked right?"
"Indeed it has. Say for instance a by stander witnesses a bank robbery and catches a glimpse of the license plate of the car in which the perpetrator got away in. Now, if he were to glance at the license plate for even a split second that number would become buried in his subconscious mind because we really never forget the things we see. So when a hypnotist, such as myself, puts the witness in a trance, regresses him in time back to the memory of the robbery and tells him to look at the car then he will remember the license plate number like that." Pierre snapped his slender fingers for emphasis.
"But why turn to you? Don't the police have psychiatrist that can hypnotize people?"
"And therein lies the problem. They are psychiatrist, not hypnotist. Hypnosis is not what they specialize in. I on the other hand have made it a lifelong study, developed my craft that often succeed where other methods fail."
"So when it comes to hypnosis you're sort of like a connoisseur?"
Pierre chuckled. "qui est juste mon' amie. But I must ask why does any of this interest you?"
Lisa had been sitting with her hands resting on her lap but as she told Pierre about her recurring nightmares and fugue trance she balled her fist tighter, tighter until her fingernails dug into her palms. He listened with utmost sincerity, his relaxed demeanor melting into genuine sympathy when she finished.
"You poor child! For such a young woman it sounds like you have not had an easy life at all!" Pierre said, his eyes swimming with concern.
"No I haven't, but maybe that's where you can help me. I want you to hypnotize me, regress me back to when I was a child and question me until we can get to the bottom of my trauma."
Pierre shook his head. "That's impossible, I won't do it!"
"I can pay you whateve-"
"Money isn't the issue. The mind is a delicate mechanism my dear. A regression that far back in time could lead to a mental break down if you're not prepared to face what's down there."
"I figured you'd be hesitant to perform something so…extreme." Lisa said as she withdrew a folded sheet of paper from her pocket. "Here, please take this."
Pierre took the paper, his hand trembling slightly. "What is this?"
"It's a signed release, it'll exonerate you of all accountability if something were to go wrong."
He didn't bother to read it. "You don't understand, I'm not worried one bit of the legal ramifications, but the moral. If we do this and something were to happen to you I'll never be able to live it down."
"If you don't help me I'll have a break down anyway!" Lisa's voice began to quiver and tears stung at her eyes. "If you send me away, that'll be the end of me and you will still be responsible because you could have prevented it!"
"I'm sorry but I can't help you." he said.
"You heartless son of a bitch!" Lisa screamed, startled by her own outburst even as it left her mouth. The look of hurt on his face shamed her to no end and it was her turn to say "I'm sorry…I'm so so sorry!" She covered her face in dismay and wept.
Pierre stooped in front of her. "Now m'dear, please don't cry. Everything's going to be ok."
"No it's not." She said in between sobs. "It's never going to be ok."
He gently pried her hands away from her face. He held his right hand before her eyes to show that it was empty, smiled and winked, and to her surprise plucked a quarter from her ear.
"Hush now child, you've made your point." he said, patting her shoulder. "A woman's tears can change even the most stubborn of minds. Against my better judgement, I'll do what I can to help you."
Lisa began to cry even harder, though the tears that ran down her face this time were tears of gratitude.
Pierre had drawn the drapes to the windows and turned off all the lights except for the one beside Lisa's sofa. Amber beams from the waning daylight sifted through the slits of the drapes, illuminating her supine body.
He stood before her, a pair of worn military dog tags gently swaying from his hand before her eyes. The tags had belonged to his father during the war and although they lacked the finesse of the traditional chevreul pendulum used during hypnosis, Lisa found herself first heavy eyed then drifting, falling, into a deep, sleep like trance at the sound of his voice.
"Lisa Ellis, can you hear me?"
"Yes." she said in a voice that was not entirely her own.
"Good, now, we are going to do something amazing, something that might seem impossible at first but I assure you is very much possible. We are going to travel in time. Nothing to it. We are going to send you slowly but surely back in time and it's already happening, you can't resist it. Time is like a river but this current is flowing backwards…ever back, and now you are no longer a woman, no, now you are just a little girl. What are you Lisa?"
"I am a little girl." she said softly.
"That's right, you are now just a little girl and we are searching for something. Can you tell me what you see?"
The darkness of the trance like sleep congealed into a waking dream. She was no longer on the sofa in Pierre's residence, she was no longer even in her own body. She was in a grand church, a place half remembered from the dredge of her memory. Mosaics of corrupted saints and demonic beast adorned the stained glass windows and perched atop the pulpit rested an effigy of a colossal owl, its wings poised in mid flight and visage terrifying. She was not alone in the church, as the pews were occupied by dozens of perverse worshippers, men dressed in all fashions of outlandish costumes and female lingerie. They stared straight ahead in devout reverence, their faces hidden behind garish mask.
Lisa drifted through the trance as ethereal as mist and somewhere from a far off distance the voice of Pierre reached her.
"What do you see Lisa?"
"A church." she said flatly.
"Good. Now can you tell me who is in this church?"
"What are these men doing?"
Through the haze of her stupor the scene had changed. Now instead of facing astutely ahead the worshippers all had their attention focused on the ethereal form of Lisa.
A pathetic moan escaped her lips.
"Lisa! Tell me what you see, what are these men doing!?"
At once the worshippers leaped from their seats and descended upon her. Lisa's body tensed as if she were struck by lightning. She squirmed and convulsed in a futile attempt to wrench free from the frenzied mob.
"Lisa! Lisa it's ok, you don't have to answer me, just come back, come back!" The voice pleaded from somewhere out of time but in the unholy sanctuary of the church a new voice spoke to her, the words spilling from dozens of mouths but borne of a single hivemind.
"I am The Alpha."
"I AM THE ALPHA!
"I AM THE ALPHA!"
Abruptly she stopped shuddering. Her features became slack, only her lips moving in a monotonous whisper.
"Lisa I'm done questioning you, I swear! Just come back please!"
Her lips stopped. Gradually the color returned to her face and her eyes fluttered open. She sat up, the memories of the hypnotism washing away from her as fleeting as wind swept sand.
"Did it work?" she asked shakily.
"Oh yes…very much so. You were too far under, there were complications."
"What happened Pierre? Please, I need to know!"
Pierre sat next to her on the sofa, removed his glasses and wiped at his sweaty brow. "The memories you are trying to access are hidden too far within you for even the deepest of hypnosis therapies. It's like a sort of barrier inside your subconscious."
"I don't understand, are you telling me that whatever happened when I was a child is so traumatic that even my subconscious mind doesn't want to remember?"
Pierre shook his head. "No, I've read about this type of barrier before. You didn't form this block yourself: It was deliberately placed inside of you."
The weight of his words seemed to hang in the air. "Placed by who?"
"It would seem some very powerful people."
Lisa was mystified. She had come to Pierre looking for answers, but as they shined the light on her traumatic experience it seemed that they discovered only more darkened shadows.
Pierre rose from his seat, looking every bit his seventy years now. "I'm sorry, but I'm afraid there's nothing more I can do for you now." he said somberly.
He led her to the front desk. Despite their lack of success she kissed Pierre on the cheek and gave him a hug.
"Thank you for the help, I really appreciate it."
"You're quite welcome m'dear. I only wish we could've gotten to the bottom of your condition."
"I don't know Pierre, it seems like this is bigger than the two of us."
"Nevertheless, I'll keep digging into this mysterious block, maybe there's a workable technique to getting around it."
"You said some very people could be behind what's happening to me. Do you think it'd be…safe looking into it?"
Pierre shrugged nonchalantly. "It seems we've already opened the door on this mystery, no turning back now."
"I wish I had your level of persistence."
"Not persistence. Just good ol' fashioned faith."
Lisa smiled. "Take care of yourself and let me know if you find out anything."
Back out in the frigid embrace of the cold Lisa had never felt more vulnerable. She shuddered, not from the biting wind but from the implications of Pierre's words.
Deliberately placed inside…
As Lisa hailed her cab she had the sinking feeling that the newest revelation was only the beginning to something far more sinister than she could ever imagine.
The next day…
Lisa busied herself in the kitchen making dinner. It had been three days since her last episode and as she lost herself in the banal domestic activity of cooking it felt good to have a sense of normalcy, however fleeting it may be.
The doorbell rang.
Lisa stopped dead in her tracks. From the daughters room the of noise cartoons was the only sound that permeated the stillness of the apartment. The doorbell rang again. Lisa slipped her kitchen knife into her hand and on legs that began to tremble went to the front door. She stared through the eyehole only to have a stranger stare back at her.
He was an older man, heavyset, with a worn, hardened face and grey hair cropped close to his thick skull in a military buzzcut. He was dressed perfectly unremarkable in a brown jacket and matching pants but the sly grin on his face told another story.
"Who are you?" Lisa asked through the door.
The man's grin grew wider. "I am The Alpha." he said, a Southern twang punctuating his speech.
Something within Lisa's mind clicked.
"I am The Omega." she said.
"Let me in."
Lisa unlocked the door and the stranger made his way inside.
"Close the door and lock it back."
She did as she was told.
The stranger sauntered into her living room like he owned the place. He regarded her with a look of bemusement when he noticed the knife in her hand.
"You can drop the knife sweetheart, you won't be needing that yet."
Lisa let the knife clatter to the floor. She stood there, a small, instinctual part of her mind horrified by this mans psychological rape but powerless to do anything.
"Is anybody else here with you?" he asked.
"Yes, my daughter."
"Daughter…my have you've grown Lisa."
She said nothing, only gave a feeble smile.
"You have no idea who I am do you?"
"Well yeah, you're…um, The Alpha." she said, puzzled.
"And you're the dumb bitch who's been sticking her nose where it doesn't belong!" he snapped.
Lisa recoiled as if she were physically struck. She averted her gaze to the floor, like a disobedient dog in front of its master.
"Look at me."
Lisa looked the stranger in his eyes. He pulled a pair of dog tags from his pocket and dangled them in her face.
"Do you know who these belong to?"
"Yes…" she said meekly.
"And do you know what happened to him?"
Lisa fidgeted. "No…"
"We put a bullet in the old mans head because he was snooping around the memory block, all because of you."
Lisa said nothing.
The stranger slipped the dog tags back into his pocket. "I bet you're wondering why all this is happening to you?"
"They call it the Azrael Block. It was a psychological technique developed by the Russians to condition their spies for interrogation. Memories would be so suppressed within agents even truth serums couldn't reach them, not without the host being attacked by their own subconscious. After the fall of the Soviet Union the scientist from the Azrael Project were placed under the directive of the CIA and their mid control programs. You following me so far sweety?"
The stranger chuckled. "Truth be told I was skeptical when I found out about the project, to be able to take a person and bend them completely to your will, that sort of power, the control. It wasn't until I met you kids that I knew those eggheads at Langley had stumbled upon something truly special."
He moved closer to Lisa. "I still remember when you were just a little girl. Back then before the military co opted our project it was used by the highest bidder however they saw fit. Nothing but a bunch of rich faggots dressing up like women and diddling kids all they were, but they paid top price, kept our funding above water. You kids proved invaluable for mind control, your brains all soft and malleable, just like clay. All we had to do was imprint the passcode and viola! Living, breathing, little sex dolls, powerless to disobey the 'Alphas' command. I'm actually surprised the passcode has held up this long. The Azrael Block was a fail safe implanted in your psyches to stop you from remembering anything incriminating. Call it a mercy block if you ask me, I doubt any kid would want to remember the shit that happened to you all. It was supposed to be fool proof, no memories of the things that happened escaping the block. But you…you're different."
"The dreams…" Lisa said.
"That's right. Somehow your subconscious found a way to fight back against the block. The barrier is cracking, in those cracks you've gotten a little peak at the fucked up shit that's happened to you. Your little magician friend was on the path to tearing the block down completely which is why he had to be eliminated. And as for you…we can't exactly have a defected model on our hands now can we?"
"No, I guess not."
The stranger stroked her cheek. "That's a good girl. Now take off your clothes."
Without hesitation Lisa stripped out of her blouse and jeans. Then she unhooked her bra and let it fall off of her slender shoulders. Finally she slid out of her panties, kicked them aside and stood before the stranger as naked as the day she was born. He devoured her with his gaze, his eyes trailing the sensuous curves of her body down to her hairless crotch.
"Almost a shame to have to do this, but you're damaged goods."
Lisa whipped around to find her daughter Jenna staring at her, confusion etched onto her tiny face.
"It's okay sweetheart, mommy's fine, I'm just…I'm…I'm…" Lisa blabbered. She didn't know what she was anymore.
"I'm a friend of your moms." the stranger said. "You caught us having some adult play time, sorry about that." He crossed the room and loomed over Jenna.
"Your mom wants me to take you on a special trip. Sounds fun right?"
Jenna stared at her mom, perplexion clear in her soft blue eyes.
"Tell her it's alright." the stranger hissed.
Lisa put on a grimace of smile as the voice in her head screamed . "It's ok Jenna, please everything's fine, just listen to whatever he tells you ok sweety?"
The stranger grabbed Jenna by the hand and led her towards the front door.
"W-where are you taking her?"
The stranger flashed a predatorial smile. "The same place we took you."
"And as far as you're concerned…" the stranger whispered his final command in Lisa's ear. When he was done the words seemed to congeal in her mind. She nodded grimly.
"Say bye to mommy!"
"Bye baby. Mommy loves you."
They turned and went out the front door, out of her life forever. Lisa picked the knife up from the floor and took it into the bathroom. She ran a warm shower and stepped inside, knife in hand. The water cascaded over her body but nothing would be enough to cleanse the stain on her soul. The small voice in the back of her mind had gone quiet because a part of her was already dead.
She traced the blade across her wrist as gentle as a lovers tongue. Lisa Ellis did not want to die, but she was The Omega.
When she cut into the flesh of her wrist she did not cry out.