The doctor’s office wasn’t very inviting. From the dark green walls to the misaligned plaques and certificates, it seemed to have been haphazardly tossed together by a man on a tear. The fact that the room was rather large, that the chair Fiona had been asked to sit in was in its center, and that it was sparsely furnished did nothing to help.

     It didn’t look like her mom’s office at all.

     Fiona wasn’t sure why she had agreed to see a psychiatrist. It certainly wasn’t her first foray into treatment for her nightmares, and it didn’t exactly work before. She also felt violated by her father’s presence, even though she knew he was only offering his support. She knew some of her issues were very personal, and she wasn’t sure if she wanted to discuss them in front of him.

     After a few moments, Dr. Heston entered. He wore a dark gray suit with a metallic pen clipped to the lapel of his jacket. Heston had been a colleague of her mothers’ before she took ill, and was an old family friend, but she’d always felt awkward around him. It didn’t help that he was tall and lanky, or that he seemed perpetually unshaven. He gave off the air of a sobering drunk. Still, she knew that Heston was a well respected psychiatrist, despite his more unconventional practices. After the previous treatments had failed, he’d offered his services for a good price, and for the past eight years, both he and her father had been trying to get her to give the treatment a shot.

     “So, Fiona,” Heston said, pulling the pen from his pocket, “I know this is uncomfortable for you. Your mother didn’t like using hypnosis casually, but I think you’d agree that your condition warrants a bit of an extreme approach. Since you know how this works, I can go ahead and begin. That is, if you’re feeling up to it.”

     “Are you sure you don’t need my history?”

     Heston smiled. “Your father sent over the records from your last treatment, so I think we’re fine.”

     “Then let’s get this over with, I guess.”

     He took his seat in the chair across from her and held up the pen for her to see. “I want you to focus on this,” he said. “Put all of your effort into it. Block everything out but this pen and the sound of my voice.”

     She fixed her gaze on the pen. As she began to focus, he placed two fingers behind it, moving them slowly toward her eyes. “Now,” he said, “as you listen to my voice, you begin to sink into a state of relaxation.” She began to feel peaceful. Her muscles began to lose their tension, and her heartbeat began to slow. Something about it felt strange, as if she and Heston were the only ones in the room. She could still hear his voice echoing in her mind.

     “Okay Fiona, I want you to look into your mind. Visualize a door, waiting to be opened. On the other side are your dreams. Do you see it?”

     “Yes, I do,” she said. The door seemed vivid to her, but it had no wall. Something on the other side made her heart rate begin to rise, but for the moment, she felt like it was far enough away that she didn’t need to worry.

     “Okay, Fiona. I want you to open that door and step inside.”

     Fiona’s heart rate jumped. She didn’t want to do that–whatever was on the other side, whatever secret she was supposed to see, felt intense. “I don’t want too,” she said. “I’m afraid….”

     “You reach out to open the door, and you realize you can fight that fear. Now open it and step inside.”

     “Okay,” she said. She felt a rush of adrenaline, but followed through, stepping inside of her nightmares. As soon as she passed the threshold, the scene unfolded before her–the stairs, the destruction, the wasteland and finally the lone tree. She felt drawn to that tree. She began to reach out to touch it, when she heard Heston’s voice once again.

     “Can you tell me what you see?” Heston asked, his voice seeming to echo in her mind.

     “Yes,” she said. “There’s a tree. I know this tree. I feel like I’ve seen it many times, but I can’t place where. It seems like it’s calling for me… I want to touch it.”

     “Do that for me, and tell me what happens.”

     She reached out once more, only for the tree to begin wither and die. As her fingers touched the bark, it felt hollow and dead, a twisted lump of rotting wood. “It’s dead…” she said. “I don’t know how I feel about that though. It’s strange. I almost feel like when the tree died, part of me died as well.”

     “Let’s move on. I want you to tell me about the world around you. What do you see?”

     “I see my street,” she said. “The ground is cracked, and everything’s dead. There’s smoke, enough to hide the sun. I can’t even tell if it’s day or night.” As she said that, she felt like her mind had been ripped away from Heston. He was still there, but she felt like his was far off. That feeling was followed by a chill, and the fetid scent of something behind her. She began to feel small and vulnerable, and soon enough she broke into a whimper.

     “Fiona, what’s wrong?”

     “She’s here,” Fiona said. “She’s coming for me.”

     “Who is? Can you tell me what she looks like?”

     The gap that had just formed seemed to double in size. The thought of that beast standing behind her terrified her to no end. “I can’t look–I–I don’t want to do this anymore.”

     “You’re safe, Fiona. There is nothing to be afraid of–”

     Heston’s voice was gone. The dreamscape before her vanished, replaced by flashes of images that flooded her mind. She saw bodies–countless corpses–and felt blood flowing down her hands. The stench of charcoal and burning flesh was so strong she began to choke. These images began to give way to something else, something bizarre and unfamiliar. A twisted smile that seemed to laugh, but with no sound. Inside she could see strange and unknown landscapes–a deep, bottomless cavern, a gigantic stone stairwell, and a granite throne so massive that she shuddered to think who was meant to use it. That faded to a barren world of molten rock and smoke–something that reminded her greatly of the forming earth–filled with creatures too horrible for her to describe. Beyond that, a city constructed of human bones, with unmentionable things lurking within its shadowy corridors, and throughout all of it a deafening drone that constantly increased in volume, until it grew so loud that she couldn’t bear it.

     Then the mouth spoke in a familiar voice, but she couldn’t make out the words, and finally it gave way to a great blackness, punctuated by a high-pitched squeal that seemed to overwhelm her mind and summon her into nonexistence. In the last moments, a terrible pain filled her eyes, and before she could understand what had happened, she fell into nothing.

* * *

Had Carter’s face not been covered in fur, he imagined it would have been as white as a sheet. His daughter had fallen from the chair onto her knees, her arms limp, and her palms turned upward. Her head had tilted back and her eyes rolled back into her skull. They were now oozing a thick, viscous fluid. Her face began to twist into a sadistic smile. She was silent, except for a slight sound that seemed to come from her throat. He turned to Dr. Heston for answers, but even he was unable to understand what had happened.

     And then her head snapped forward, and her eyes connected with Heston’s. “Theodore Heston,” she said. “It’s been a while. I’m happy I could see you again.”

     That’s not her voice, Carter thought.

     Heston seemed to pick up on it too. At first he seemed unable to speak. His eyes were wide in shock, and his hands were trembling. After several tense seconds, he finally asked, “Who… are you?” but his voice was weak and shaky.

     “Clickity-clack. Clickity-clack. I’m the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

     The doctor’s face lost its color.

     “Not happy to see me? I suppose I can understand. If it hadn’t have been for the pencil you gave me, I wouldn’t have been able to get the job done.”

     Carter was shocked. His daughter seemed possessed–something that, despite his faith, he’d never thought possible. Yet he couldn’t deny that whatever was happening, it wasn’t something he could explain. He reached out to put his hand on her shoulder, to verify that he wasn’t losing touch with reality, but without so much as glancing his way she grabbed his wrist and twisted it. The pain was unbelievable.

     “Not now, Daddy, we’re having a moment.” This voice was very different–familiar, but very wrong and definitely not Fiona’s. “Wait your turn, I’ll get to you when I’m done.”

     She released his hand, and he fell to the floor. His body began to shake. Looking up, it seemed as if his daughter had been replaced with something menacing and giant. She smirked and wiped a drop of fluid from her cheek before turning her attention back to Heston.

     “Oh, Doctor,” she said, “I can’t tell you how interesting this is. It’s really difficult to take over a body.” She began to climb on top of Heston, holding his hand back and pressing her forearm against his throat. “You’re all are so fragile, so simple. It’s hard to see the forest for the trees once we get in–like a human’s mind invading a cockroach’s. I could break you without even trying. Then again, it’s not like I play by your rules anyway.”

     And in an instant she was standing behind him, pressing the tip of the pen against his trachea. “See, that’s where you and I differ. If you somehow managed to pull that off, the poor little bug’s brain would fry. It would probably take your mind with it. I, however, can still make this body work.” Then, with a slight push the pin broke through the his throat with a sickening pop. Carter could hear him gagging. “Well, it isn’t easy, I suppose. I have to concentrate. One tiny slip of this girl’s nerves, and I’d have shoved this pen clear through your spine. I might’ve even taken your head off. And her poor little arm….” She yanked the pin from his neck and threw it behind her, embedding it deep into the office door. “Enough of this crap. This brat’s brain is making me woozy.” She turned her gaze toward Carter. “See you some other time.”

     Fiona’s body went limp. Her face gained a look of peace as she slid off Heston and onto the floor. Carter pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and held it to Heston’s throat. With a hoarse voice, Heston whispered, “The blood’s stopped. I’m all right. Check your daughter–make sure she’s okay.”

     “I’m still going to call an ambulance–”

     “Just check your daughter, then we’ll worry about that.”

     “Then hold this.” Carter waited for Heston to grab the cloth, and then checked his daughter’s pulse. Though her heart rate was through the roof, it seemed to be dropping. Moving quickly, he removed his phone from his pocket and with Heston’s approval he dialed 911.