The office wasn’t very inviting. From the faded sea foam wallpaper to the crooked certificates hanging on every wall, it stood out to Fiona less as the treatment room of a respected psychiatrist, and more like the zealous decorations of a blinded madman in a particularly zealous fervor. It didn’t help that the room was uncomfortable large–it could easily have fit a pair of large bedrooms within its walls with space to spare–or that it was so sparsely furnished with mismatched designs–there was an antique oak writing desk by the window, a weathered office chair, a spoke-backed couch against the wall, and in the middle of the room, a single red chair and ottoman with its back to the door.
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–she’d spent five years in therapy for giving up, and had stopped taking the pills only two years alter. Nothing worked. Not helping matters was that her father insisted on being there with her–not that it wasn’t understandable. After all, this time she was facing something much riskier than therapy and pills. The problem was she was well aware that dreams tended to cover very personal subject matter, and that the images seen in a dream were often not meant to be taken at face value. Rather, they were more allegorical, imagery put together from the familiar, shown as cliches, puns, metaphors and flashes of seeming randomness, all of which had to be interpreted together with the emotion of the scene and very other bit of imagery. An elderly chicken farmer dreaming of dead rooster, for example, could be fearing that he could wake up with find his all his chickens dead, or he could be dreaming about impotency–literal or otherwise–sexual frustration, or really anything else that he might associate with the words chicken, rooster or cock. As such, dream therapy was deceptively invasive, as even the most innocent of dream imagery could be something people just don’t want to talk about with their parents in the room.
But at this point, there were no other options left.
After what seemed like hours, Dr. Heston entered. Despite his poor taste in office decoration, the man wore a very dapper seersucker suit, and on his jacket’s lapel he had clipped an expensive sterling silver pen that glistened so brightly it seemed to demand her attention. This surprised her less than his office had–he had been a colleague of her mother’s before she got sick, and had been a family friend long before that. Looking at him now, however, she noticed his awkward lankiness, his reddened eyes, and his unshaven face. He gave off the air of a sobering drunk, one that had a falling out with his razor about a week prior and hadn’t eaten in days.
This was a respected psychiatrist.
In truth, it was age and illness that had given him this look. Heston was close to retirement, and he’d just recovered from having a rather nasty melanoma removed from his his cheek. His unshaven appearance was simply him being tired of running over that sore patch with a razor, and his red eyes and dark bags were simply the result age, chemo and his progressing glaucoma. Furthermore, while hypnosis had long since fallen out of favor with most psychiatrists, Heston only used it in cases where nothing else worked. It had taken the complete failure of every prior treatment, and multiple therapists and shrinks giving up on her, for him to even consider using it on her, and even then he had waited most of the past year before even bringing it up as an option.
“So, Fiona,” Heston said, “I know this is uncomfortable for you. As you’re aware, hypnosis isn’t a treatment that should be used casually. A single suggestion on my part–intentional or otherwise–can have consequences that will follow you for the rest of your life. At this point, however, you no doubtedly 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 your records already. I’m not going in blind.”
“Then let’s get this over with.”
Heston pulled his chair from behind the desk and brought it in front of her. Once seated, he took his pen from his jacket and held it forward for her to see. “I want you to get comfortable,” he said. “Focus on this pen. Let everything you see, hear and feel fade away, leaving nothing but this pen and the sound of my voice.”
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 was only one in the room, like everyone and everything else was slipping away. Despite this, she could still hear his voice.
“Okay Fiona, I want you to visualize a door. It can be any door you want–that’s unimportant. This door is waiting for you to openen it. Do you see it?”
“Yes, I do,” she said. The door was vivid–built from mahogany planks, held together by rivets and braced with gold-inlaid metal, shaped to resemble acanthus leaves. It seemed medieval, like something she would expect to find in a European castle or monastery. There was no wall around it, no frame, no floor or ceiling; whatever was there was unimportant, so much so that she didn’t even care that she couldn’t see it. She was entranced by the door.
“That door is the door to your dreams,” Heston’s voice said. “When you open it, you will be inside your nightmare. You’re unafraid of this, and you know that the nightmare will not harm you. As you ready yourself to confront your nightmares, I want you to image yourself as the god of what lies beyond. Everything you see will have a meaning, and everything will be under your complete control. Are you ready?”
Fiona told him yes.
Heston told her to open the door, and to step inside
Fiona told him no.
Fiona didn’t want to open that door. Whatever was on the other side was not under her control. It was controlled by her, the thing that ruled that nightmare, the unseen monster that created it, the enormous beast that chased her and devoured her night after night. Fiona didn’t want to meet that beast again. Fiona was too afraid.
“You are not afraid,” Heston said. “You know you are in control. When you reach out to open the door, you will feel the power to fight through any fear you feel. You are the god of that world. It exists only because you exist, and you will conquer it. Now open the door and step inside.”
“Okay,” she said. As she touched the doorknob, a rush of adrenaline flowed through her, and she felt stronger than ever, braver than ever. If she had to, she would fight that beast, and she would take back her dreams. She pushed the door open and confidently stepped inside to find the familiar scenario unfolding before her–a musty smell, the door to her room, the basement stairs, the wasteland outside and finally that lone tree. She stood before it, ignoring the horrors around her and those waiting for her inside the house.
Their presence was unimportant.
Her goal, she felt, was that tree. It called to her, drawing her toward it with its silent plea. Its silvery bark was inviting. It seemed smooth and glistened, as if it were woven from the most luxurious satin fabric. She considered running her fingers across the branch, but before she could reach out, Heston’s voice spoke to her once again. “Can you tell me what you see?” he asked. His voice seemed further away now, but she didn’t care. She was in control her, and his distance was unimportant.
“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. I want to touch it.”
“Do that for me, and tell me what happens.”
She reached for the tree, only for it to begin to wither and die. As soon as she touched the bark, she could immediately tell that the trunk was already dead and hollow. “It’s dead…” she said. “It’s just a husk now. I don’t know how I feel about that. It’s strange; I almost feel like when the tree died, part of me died with it, but at the same time it felt like something else was born. I don’t think it matters right now.”
“Let’s move on. I want you to tell me about the world around you.”
“Why?” she asked. “I don’t think there’s any reason to.”
“Because,” Heston said, “it is important that we explore this dream.”
Important. That word stabbed at her like a hot knife. How had she convinced herself that it wasn’t? She was here to explore this dream, to conquer it, to fix whatever it was that was haunting her. Somehow she’d focused on that tree, and she’d missed everything inside the house.
“Calm down,” Heston said. “She didn’t know why he said that–she felt perfectly calm. A little pissed at myself, maybe, she thought.
“There’s no reason to be,” Heston’s voice said. “We can go back to the house later. So try to relax, and focus on where you are now.”
“Okay,” she said. She took a long look around her, and was surprised at how indifferent she was to the destruction. “I see my street,” she said. “The ground is cracked. The cliff’s gone, and there are bodies everywhere. There’s a lot of smoke, enough to block out the sun. Or is it the moon? It’s so thick, I can’t tell if it’s day or night–”
It was all gone. She felt torn from her nightmare, and wherever she was now, she found herself alone. A great chill filled the air, and she found herself shivering in the darkness. She could hear Heston’s voice–far off in the distance, a faint echo just barely rising above a howling wind. Something very large was towering over her, something very much not in her control. In its presence, she was unimportant, she didn’t matter. Fiona shrank and became vulnerable, collapsing into a ball on what she assumed was the ground, and there she broke into a quiet whimper.
“Fiona, what’s wrong?” Heston said.
“Can you tell me what she looks like?”
No. She’s behind me.
“Fiona, turn around and face her. Tell me what she is.
“Fiona, you can. You’re in control, not her.”
She’s in control.
“Fiona, this is your dream.”
No, it’s not.
The gap seemed to double in size.
“You’re safe, Fiona. There is nothing to be afraid of. You are in control of what happens here. This is–”
NOT A DREAM.
Heston’s voice was gone. What remained of the dreamscape before her vanished, replaced by dreadful visions that overwhelmed her senses and flooded her mind. She saw a yellowed, crumbled city of corpses–untold numbers of the dead of all kinds, men, women, children, animals, even plants–all strewn about and rotting on the sun-scorched wasteland that surrounded her. She felt hot blood flowing from her wrists, streaming like little rivers down her hands. There was a dreadful stench, an odious belch of sulfur and burning flesh, one so intense that it burned her lungs and twisted her stomach into knots.
Then she was torn away from that hell, and the visions gave way to a profound and bizarre sea of nothingness. She felt watched, stalked by a being whose only defining feature was an unseen smile, a twisted smile that seemed to laugh with sadistic glee at her newfound plight from somewhere behind her. She turned to face it–to stare it down–only to be met with horror as it enveloped her body and swallowed up her very existence. And within the depths Fiona saw that which her nightmares could not draw up–an bottomless, underground chasm just barely lit by an unearthly light, a stairway of stone where each step rose to nearly a dozen times her height, a rocky plateau rising from the abyss, and at the center of all of it, a granite throne so massive that she shuddered to think of what monstrosity was meant to rule from its seat.
Those visions soon faded, an in there place she saw a hellish world of molten rock and fiery vapor. From within the flames around her, she caught fleeting glimpses of unspeakable beasts, each of them more vile and repulsive than the last. She felt herself thrust forward through the eons and into the Earth, where she found herself witness to a dark, sprawling city of carved limestone tunnels and twisted arches of bone. Within every labyrinthine corridor she could sense unimaginable things waiting for her, watching her intently as she was dragged through the winding streets. And all through this there was a ghastly noise, a deafening drone that seemed to constantly rise in intensity, past the point that any sane person could bear and ever higher in pitch and tone, until it was the only thing that her mind could comprehend.
Then there was booming voice. It howled and echoed throughout the air around her, forming abominable words that thundered through her body. Each blasphemous syllable was punctuated by an ear-splitting squeal, dragging her ever closer to a great blackness with every consonant, every vowel, ever breath of its speaker. In her last moments of consciousness, a terrible pain stabbed at her eyes, but before she could even recognize its existence that blackness had enveloped her and she fell into the great nothing.
* * *
Had Carter’s face not been covered in fur, it would have been as white as a sheet. His daughter had fallen from the chair onto her knees, where she had remained with limp arms and upturned palms for the past twelve minutes. Her head had been pulled back, her mouth held in a tortured scream, with her eyes rulled back into her skull and a thick, viscous red fluid streaming down the sides of her face. She had been silent the entire time, save for an odd, rattling sound that constantly crept from her throat. Even Dr. Heston was at a loss to explain what had happened, and both men sat petrified in fear.
And then her head snapped forward, and her eyes rolled back, connecting deep into Heston’s own. “Theodore Heston,” she said. “It’s been a while. I’m happy to see you again.”
Carter pulled back. It wasn’t Fiona’s voice. This voice was male–creaky, weak, and filled with an unhealthy amount of vitriol. There was something inhuman about it, something vile and oozing malevolence. Whatever it was that was speaking through his daughter, he doubted it was ever truly human.
Heston apparently had picked up on this as well. He’d dropped his pen the second Fiona had spoken, and his face had been deathly pale ever since. The old man was left speechless, his eyes bulged out of their orbits, an his hands trembled with an unmistakable terror. After several tense seconds, he finally found the courage address the question both of them had been too terrified to ask: “Who… are you?”
His voice was as weak and shaky as the one that had come from Fiona.
“Clickity-clack. Clickity-clack. I’m the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
The doctor’s face lost what little was left its color.
“Not happy to see me? I suppose I can understand. If it hadn’t have been for that pen–that one on the floor right now–well, I wouldn’t have been able to get the job done, would I?”
There was no doubt left in Carter’s mind. His daughter had been possessed–something that his faith had always told him was possible, but not something he’d ever actually believed could happen. But he couldn’t deny that whatever it was that was speaking through Fiona, it wasn’t his daughter. It wasn’t her voice, it wasn’t her personality, and it seemed so filled with violence and hate that it could not possibly be his daughter kneeling in front of that chair. He couldn’t explain it.
“Timothy….” Heston’s voice was so weak, Carter almost didn’t hear him say it. But he had, and the doctor had just addressed that thing by name. Whatever it was, Heston had known it–either at some point in his personal life, or some point in his career.
If it weren’t for that pen, I wouldn’t have been able to get the job done, would I?
“Goddamn it Heston….” Carter said under his breath. Timothy had done something with that pen, and judging from Heston’s reaction, it was not something the doctor wanted to remember. And Heston had used it to hypnotize Fiona. He supposed it didn’t matter, at least not right then. What mattered was that Timothy had control of his daughter, and Carter wouldn’t stand for that. He had to get her back. He eased up from his seat and reached out to touch his daughter’s shoulder, only for Fiona’s own hand to whip up with lightning speed and clench his wrist.
“Not now, Daddy, we’re having a moment.”
That’s not the same voice. This new voice was different; stronger, younger, and definitely more feminine, but still undeniably sadistic. And it still wasn’t Fiona’s.
“Wait your turn, pops. I’ll get to you when I’m done with the old man.” With that, his daughter released his hand, and Carter fell to the floor. From his new perspective, he saw something far more menacing in his daughter’s eyes–whatever it was that had taken her body, it wasn’t this Timothy. It was something much more dangerous.
“Oh, Doctor,” she said, “I can’t tell you how interesting this is. I don’t usually take over bodies like this–there are better ways to get the point across, ones that won’t damage all the lovely meat.” She began to rise from the floor and slowly climbed onto Heston’s chest. She grabbed his hand with her left and placed her forearm against this throat. “Your bodies are so fragile, your minds so simple. It’s hard to see the forest for the trees once we get in. And your frail little forms… I could break you in half without any effort at all. Then again, it’s not like I play by your rules anyway.”
In an instant she was standing behind him, pressing the tip of the pen against his throat. “See, that’s where you and I differ. If you somehow managed to pull that off, the poor little bug’s brain would melt, and it would probably take your mind with it. I, however, can still make this body work.” Then, with only the slightest push, the pin broke through his windpipe with a sickening pop. “Well, it isn’t easy, for me either, I suppose. I have to concentrate not to annihilate you just by brushing against your shoulder. Do you know how often I have ever had to concentrate? I’ve been around since the stars were young, old man, and I can count the number of times I’ve had to put my mind to something on one of your tiny little hands. But here I am, putting my best effort into not killing you. Just one tiny slip-up, one itty-bitty burst of electricity in this girl’s nerves, and your neck would be a wet spot on the wall, and that pen? Oh, it wouldn’t exist anymore, honey. Not even dust. Not to mention her poor little arm….”
She yanked the pin from his neck and threw it behind her, embedding its tip deep into the office door. “Enough of this crap. This brat’s brain is making me woozy.” She turned her gaze toward Carter. “I guess I won’t be playing with you today after all. 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 raced to Heston’s side, pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and pressed it to Heston’s windpipe. With a hoarse voice, Heston whispered, “I’m all right. Go back to your daughter–check her pulse.”
“You need help–”
“Focus on your daughter. We can worry about me when we know she’s okay.”
“Then hold this.” Carter waited for Heston to grab the cloth, and then checked his daughter’s pulse. Although her heart rate was through the roof, it seemed to be dropping back to normal. Moving quickly, he removed his phone from his pocket and–with Heston’s approval–dialed 911.