It had been almost a full week since his accident when Gorgonio Alvarez-Garcia returned to the clinic.
A fresh snowfall had deepened the banks either side of the road as his bus wormed its way deeper into the forest. Staring out of the window, the scenery blurred together, and every inch of the woods abandoned its individuality. As if it hadn't all looked the same before.
Rolling upwards, his eyes swayed with the drunken motion of his head. He had been sedated – a precaution in case he turned desperate and attempted to escape again. His grandmother had paid good money to get him into the clinic. They wouldn't allow him to bolt again.
Above the bus, bare branches grasped at the sky. The deeper the bus drove into the woods, the more obscured the clouds became. It wasn't long until looking up yielded more wood than atmosphere.
The bus pulled up, the tires growling with the salt and gravel that had been spread over the turning circle. Gorgonio's escort helped him stand, making sure his head was supported, before leading him down the steps of the bus, and across the small parking lot to the main entrance of the lodge.
Lucid though he was, he could still hear the chitter of animals all around him, and his bandaged head throbbed pain across his stitches in time with his pulse. Wincing slightly, Gorgonio moved his tongue around his mouth. He felt the surface of his teeth, swiping the tip over the enamel and picking at food that was caught in one of his molars.
He walked through the door and felt the warmth of the heating embrace him. Behind him, the door shut, and the cold was nothing more than a memory. With that, the orderly that was accompanying him started to help him remove his coat and scarf. Gorgonio barely had any energy, so the most he could manage to help was to lift his arms.
It wasn't much different to how his life was on his down days. Often, he barely managed to dress himself. Either his siblings or his parents had to help. And that was only when he was inclined to leave his house – or forced – and that wasn't very often.
Slowly, he was led through the lodge, until he reached the stairs that descended into Doctor Sterling's office.
The orderly gently gripped his arm and supported Gorgonio down the incline of the stairs. Once they reached the bottom, he was sat in the familiar leather recliner and watched as the artificial firelight danced around the books.
"Welcome back, Mr Alvarez-Garcia," Doctor Sterling smiled, from his own lounger.
The Doctor's voice was muffled by the sedative, leaving Gorgonio feeling like his ears were wadded full of cotton. His eyelids closed and opened slowly – much slower than the standard blink.
"How are you feeling?"
Gorgonio felt his attention drift around the room before gradually settling back on the Doctor. "Okay."
"And your head?" the Doctor continued, indicating the bandage.
Earlier in the day, blood had started to seep out of it and crusted against his skin before the nurses had changed the wrappings. He hadn't thought about it since then. So it must have been okay.
"Good," the Doctor smiled, leaning forwards. "I just thought that I would check in with you, now that you're back. Have you been taking your medication, while you were at the hospital?"
He remembered the nurses and Doctors forcing him to take all kinds of pills. Antibiotics, and painkillers, and something else. It must have been his medication. Gorgonio nodded slowly.
"Good." Doctor Sterling clasped his hands together and tried to meet Gorgonio's meandering eyes. "Do you remember what happened to you?"
He remembered. Very well. It was the reason he'd been sedated before they'd sent him back. When the people at the hospital told him that he would be going back, he had screamed so loud that his throat bled.
The panic threatened to take hold of him again, but the drugs bled all his energy out of his body. His brain felt slow and sluggish.
Gorgonio nodded slowly. "I hit my head… In the woods…"
"Do you remember how?"
"The monster…" he muttered, his tongue swelling with the repressed fear.
"A monster?" Doctor Sterling said, perplexed. Turning in his chair, he grabbed his notebook and flipped through it. "You never mentioned a monster before, in our sessions?"
"I didn't… hallucinate it…" Gorgonio said. He had to take a break midway through the sentence. His tongue felt too big for his mouth.
He saw the Doctor's brows lower. "And what did this monster look like?"
"I… never saw it," he replied. "It… It was too dark… But I heard it… And its eyes… They glowed…"
The Doctor hummed pensively and jotted down a few notes. "Okay… Tell me everything that happened. And we'll talk through it. Together."
By the time he left the lodge, Gorgonio was starting to feel more lucid. His body was still moving slowly, and his mind lethargic, but it was no longer a struggle to speak.
He walked out of the door that led towards the cabins, the orderly following close behind him and maintaining a firm grip on his shoulder. Snow crunched under his feet and drops of moisture dripped onto his head from the overhanging branches. After a way, his bandage was starting to grow damp.
Moving from the trees above him, to the path below, his vision swayed. He caught flashes of detail, but not much. Everything looked identical. Like it did before.
Behind him, he felt the orderly slow.
Confused by the change of pace, he tried to focus his attention on the path ahead.
Walking towards him, he saw a young woman walking towards him. She looked familiar. Like he had seen her before.
He couldn't place her. It didn't matter.
He needed to warn her. The Doctor didn't listen to him. He'd thought Gorgonio had been making it up. That the monster had just been another hallucination.
Passing her on the path, he turned his head and whispered: "It's real. It's in the trees."