By Jason Foley
The shrill electronic buzzing sound cut deep into Lorine’s skull as she struggled to open her eyes. She swung her arm blindly, batting at the source of her torment while she buried her face deeper into her pillow. The bright morning sun flooded her tiny, single dorm room as she clenched her eyes tightly and gritted her teeth, hoping to drown out the steady buzz still radiating from her alarm clock.
After slapping unidentifiable objects from the bedside table, she heard the sound of plastic striking the bare tiles of the floor. The alarm clock continued to whine as she attempted to push her face away from the pillow, only to discover that both of her arms were weak and rubbery, as if she had been lifting weights for an entire week.
Lori groaned and rolled onto her side. The ache spread throughout her entire body, as if she had been thrown down multiple flights of stairs. There was a slight ringing sensation within her ears as the throbbing within her head began to intensify, threatening to grow. She sat up and opened her eyes. To her surprise, the light felt similar to a baseball bat striking her in the face. She threw up both of her hands and fell onto her back, bumping her head against the wall her twin-sized bed was pressed up against.
Tears rolled down her cheeks as she scooted forward and used her feet to find the fallen alarm clock. She kicked wildly at the floor until her right foot found the round plastic shell screeching out its angry call. Her head felt as if were about to explode as she twisted her foot around the cord and kicked her leg away from the wall, pulling the plug, hoping to silence the tiny offender. Her victory was short lived as a muted and more high-pitched wail began to emanate in place of the shrill alarm.
She let out a small, frustrated shout as she swung up into a sitting position and dropped onto her knees, tearing blindly at the bottom of the alarm clock. Her fingers scraped against the plastic latch, which held the backup battery. The tiny door snapped off as her fingers tore away at the tiny 9-Volt, feeling the connection wires snapping as she hurled it, as well as the clock, in two separate directions.
The sound of cracking plastic and a dull thud caused the pounding in her head to grow more intense. Falling to the floor, Lori gripped the sides of her head and curled up into the fetal position. She wanted to scream; the pain was so intense it was as if something inside her head compressed her brain from within her skull.
Despite the silence blanketing the room, she could still hear a high-pitched ringing within her ears, growing louder by the second. Lori screamed, and twisted, wishing she could shut her eyes tighter as her entire body began to throb with an unbearable pain. Her muscles twitched and tightened, causing her body to spasm as she writhed upon the cold, hard floor.
She felt the pounding grow from the back of her head, like a bass drum, thumping steadily as it resonated throughout her entire body. Her neck felt stiff as she lost control of her movements, her body stiffening, and then relaxing as she cried aloud.
Her head twisted quickly as she felt the bones in her neck crack loudly with a flash of white. As the echo of her neck passed through her head, her entire body relaxed, and the pain was reduced to a mild throbbing in the back of her head once again.
Rolling onto her back, Lori began to laugh and sob all at once. The pain was so severe and unexpected, and she was terrified.
“What happened?” she whispered to herself, cautiously opening her eyes as the light of the room made the front of her head tighten from within. The only light was leaking through the bare window next to her bed as she slowly rose up to a sitting position. She was in her college dorm room, and nothing was out of place, yet the entire room felt oddly unfamiliar and hostile to her.
The off-white walls were bare except for the full-length mirror and analog wall clock, which had been there when she signed for the room. The wooden doors of her closet were worn and scratched from years of abuse, and the small desk pushed up against the opposite wall had books piled up with a tiny desk lamp. She had been living here for an entire semester, yet this morning she felt like a stranger waking up in someone else’s house.
Her eyes began to focus as she spotted herself in the mirror. She was still wearing her clothes, minus shoes and socks. Her long brown hair was a tangled mess of knots resting in a huge pile on the top of her head. Her eyes looked swollen, and her makeup was smeared all over as if she had tried to wipe it off with her sleeve. A small cut on her bottom lip was tender, and pain shot out as she touched it lightly with her fingertip. Her hands were scratched and stained with dirt, and either mud or lipstick.
Lowering her hands, she noticed her jeans were torn and there were dark stains all over them. Her long-sleeve shirt was also ragged, with holes and darker shades of black. Her leather jacket was tossed into a corner of the room, piled up with her shoes and socks.
She slowly rose to her feet. “What the hell happened last night?” she asked the ragged girl in the mirror, praying that her headache would subside long enough to recall the previous night’s adventures.
The ache in her body lessened as she rose to her feet, using the chair in her room to stabilize herself as she straightened. Her legs felt shaky and weak, and she opened her closet door to dig out her shower kit.
Her mouth was dry and her throat parched as she envisioned the cool water from the fountain outside the shared bathroom quenching her terrible thirst. The halls were nearly deserted as she made her way toward the community showers. Odd. Shouldn’t there be more people wandering about, rushing to get ready for their morning classes?
Her head ached as she struggled to remember what class she had this morning. As she approached the water fountain, she leaned over and slurped up large mouthfuls of cool water. Swallowing more and more, she felt her stomach begin to ache, yet the dryness in her throat remained. She lifted her head, feeling a small amount of the soreness drain from her muscles.
More relief was obtained as the steady stream of water washed over her skin as she leaned against the stained tile wall of her shower stall. Lori began to scrub her hands and legs vigorously, surprised that the stains took a great deal of effort to remove. Some of the dark marks on her hands washed away to reveal red skin. The warm water splashing upon the spots caused a sharp pain to shoot up her arms, almost as if she had burnt herself somehow.
She closed her eyes and tried her best to remember anything that had happened prior to her waking up. She remembered getting ready to go to a house party with her friend Nakia, but everything after leaving the dorms was just a black pit of nothingness.
A cold chill tickled her spine as her memory remained a blank. She silently prayed that she hadn’t done anything stupid or dangerous. Lorine had never been much of a risk taker or a thrill seeker. She preferred to watch things from the sidelines and enjoy watching others live their lives to the fullest.
It was her first year in a school away from her small hometown in Maryland, and she wasn’t accustomed to the big city life living so close to downtown Washington D.C. had to offer. Nakia, whom she had gone to high school with, was her only friend here.
Nakia was the wild child, always trying to experience everything the world had to offer. D.C. was her playground, and she was always dragging Lori off to some club, event, or gathering. Without Nikki, her entire life would consist of going to class, studying, and doing weird stuff on her computer.
She shut off the water and dried herself quickly, eager to make it back to her room and figure out which class she had this morning. The entire time she racked her brain for any scrap of memory or hint as to what had happened after she left for the night.
Where had they gone? Who had they met up with, if anyone? Most importantly, what had they done that caused her to wake up feeling as if she had survived multiple vehicle rollovers?
As she was struggling to brush the tangled knots from her hair, Lori noticed the broken alarm clock on her floor. After tying her hair into a quick ponytail, she glanced over at the bedside table for her phone. She could see the end of the charger, but no phone charging. Moving over to the pile of clothes in her corner, she lifted her jacket, and rummaged through the pockets. A few loose bills fell to the floor, along with her phone and some small thin capsules.
She knelt down to retrieve the items, and her head began to throb once again. A giant flood of scattered images filled her head, hitting her like a semi-truck out of nowhere. Faces and music clouded her vision as she gripped her forehead, trying not to fall face down on the floor.
She remembered being in a crowded living room. The lights were dim, and there was loud dub step blaring from the stereo speakers. Nikki was talking to Jeremy Brooker, a guy who was always around at parties passing out some chemical substance. He always seemed to have the latest chemical on the market, which he would always push upon everyone possible. No one really knew how he got these large quantities of drugs, nor did anyone ever see him actually accept any money for passing them around.
Then again, there were some questions Lori didn’t really care enough to find out the answers to. Jeremy had pulled Nikki aside and motioned for Lori to follow them into one of the bedrooms. Her memory was scattered at that point as an image of biting down on a thin plastic-looking green capsule replaced the living room scene.
She heard screams, and everything became a blur as flashes of still pictures played through her throbbing head. She bit her lower lip and tried to stop the slideshow of random images. There was a dark alley, followed by an old woman, whose face was twisted and screaming, then Lori was chasing someone down a well-lit sidewalk.
So many images, none of which made the slightest bit of sense, crowded her thoughts and she collapsed onto her side, moaning. She shut her eyes tightly as the images stopped as abruptly as they had begun.
“I know now, that it was all a lie,” a scratchy voice whispered in her ear. Then blackness consumed her and she felt herself falling.
* * *
When Lorine opened her eyes again, she could hear her phone ringing in the distance. The room was dark, and she was in her underwear, underneath the sheets, with the blanket lying in a crumpled bundle near her feet. She glanced at her phone, it was an alarm, and there was no alarm clock on her nightstand, yet the time on her phone read 2:23 AM.
She rubbed her eyes and sat up, wondering why she had even bothered setting an alarm. Her dorm room was a mess, with clothes tossed every which way, and her desk drawers half open, a mess of unidentifiable small objects scattered atop the surface.
She slowly made her way over and clicked on the tiny desk lamp. “What happened?” she muttered to herself, her throat raspy and dry.
She remembered getting ready for class, and then nothing. How had she gotten here again? Her head was slightly throbbing, yet nothing compared to what she had felt the last time she had woken up.
She turned off the alarm on her phone and pulled it off the charger. She winced as the bright light from the touchscreen sent a sharp pain into her forehead. She found her chair, propped up against the door of her dorm room. She wrinkled her brow, thinking that was odd, as if she were afraid someone would try and force their way in. She carefully walked over; unsure of what surprises might be lurking beneath the piles of clothes and books spread about the floor.
Retrieving the chair, she turned to set it by her desk, when she noticed the window had a thick sheet of plywood covering it. She left the chair by the door and walked over to examine the window, running her fingers along the edges. It was held up with some type of thick, white, plastic-feeling adhesive. Placing her hands on either side, she curled her fingers and gave the board a swift pull, finding it firmly planted and unmovable.
She scratched her head, awestruck at how chaotic and strange the entire room had become. The pain in her head intensified, and she remembered how unbearable it had been the last time. She quickly searched her desk for a bottle of Advil, or anything that might help with the pain.
Her neck was stiff, and she placed her hand gently on the back of it and slowly twisted it until she felt a satisfying pop. As the bones in her neck crackled like bubble wrap, the headache that threatened to take over once again crept back and became a dull buzz. As the pain faded, she became increasingly aware of how thirsty she was and scanned her surroundings, looking for a bottle of water.
She jumped a little as her phone vibrated. A text message. The number wasn’t in her contact list. As she opened it, she wondered who she had given her number to?
She smirked as she imagined a tall, lean, muscular young man with a killer smile laughing with her. The vision shattered like a light bulb falling from the ceiling as she read the message. It was from Bryan Haney, one of Jeremy’s friends. The message read, Hey, Lori, it’s Bryan, are you awake?
Lori was confused, yet she replied and received a second message almost instantly. Hurry up and get ready, I’ll be out front to pick you up in 20 minutes.
She set the phone back on the nightstand. Get ready? Ready for what? She toyed with the idea of asking more questions, until her headache reminded her that she needed a shower and something to drink.
Her mind wandered as she gathered up some decent clothes and made her way toward the showers. Her memory was still a complete blank. She couldn’t make sense of the pictures that had flashed through her head before she had blacked out again. The last time she had woken up, her dorm room hadn’t so closely resembled a landfill.
She hurried through her shower, making sure to make an extra pass at the water fountain before she crept back into her room and snatched up her phone, jacket and a pair of shoes. The shoes were all scattered and buried underneath clothes, books, and DVDs, and it took her a few minutes to find a matching pair. She finally found a pair of flats, which she slipped on, and locked her door before heading downstairs to meet up with Bryan.
As she slipped her keys back into her jacket pocket, she felt a few thin bead-like objects in the pocket. She pinched one and removed it, holding it flat in the palm of her hand. It was a capsule, about half an inch long, and thin, filled with a bright green liquid, which almost seemed to glow in the florescent lighting of the hallway. As she examined it, the ringing in her ears grew loud and she dropped to one knee, her mind once again flooded with unfamiliar images.
She saw herself standing over a mangled body, which was twisted and lying face down in a black pool. A dark alley was surrounded by burning trashcans and glowing eyes watched her from the shadows.
Lori gripped her head again, praying she didn’t black out in the hallway.
“Taste, and see,” a voice whispered.
Her neck grew stiff as her pulse throbbed behind her eyes. She twisted her neck, feeling it pop again. Strangely, as the bones in her spine snapped, the visions faded, and the ringing reduced its intensity.
“Oh thank God,” she whispered as she opened her eyes, cautiously. She glanced around, reassuring herself she was still in the hallway, not waking up in her dorm again. She had clenched her fist tightly around the tiny capsule, slowly replacing it within her pocket as she braced herself against the wall.
Using her hands, she pulled herself up and cautiously began to walk, taking care to step carefully, still dizzy from the attack on her mind. What the hell was going on with her? What was happening? Fear built up in her gut, causing her to shiver.
As she exited the dorm building, she saw a beaten up Toyota Camry out front with the lights off and the engine running. Inside, Bryan sat smoking what she hoped was a hand-rolled cigarette. She opened the passenger side door and entered the vehicle.
“It’s about time. I swear, you’ve been impossible to get a hold of lately.” He flipped on the lights and shifted the car into drive.
As they pulled away, Lori pressed the switch on the door, growing frustrated as she heard the mechanical whirring sound yet the window remained stationary.
“It’s broken, sorry. Here, I’ll roll mine down.” He held the joint out the window, providing her with mild relief. The smoke made her feel nauseous as Bryan drove along the half-empty streets.
“Where are we going?” Lori inquired, only to receive a discomforting look in return. “Bryan? Where are we going?”
Bryan flicked the joint out the window as he pulled up to a red light. “Shouldn’t you know? This whole thing was your idea in the first place.” He shook his head in frustration. “I swear, you’re either messing with me, or you have amnesia.” He clicked on the radio, and a random pop artist began to sing about lost love and heartbreak.
Lori’s head began to hurt again, and she was afraid she would black out in the car. “Could you please just tell me? I don’t remember anything since this morning.”
Bryan laughed as he turned off the main street and into a residential area. “This morning? How high are you? You came up with this bright idea while we were having lunch.” Bryan slowed the car down as he pulled a cigarette from the pack in his cup holder and lit it. “We’re going back to Jeremy’s friend’s place, to get more Xanidem. You really don’t remember anything?”
Lori was confused. “Xanidem? What the hell is Xanidem?” She racked her brain, trying to think of where she had heard that word before. She remembered Jeremy and Nikki telling her to “bite it” and taste how sweet it was. A memory of colors and a warm feeling filled her, and then she heard a scream and felt fingers around her throat, and a gray, toothless, ragged old woman spouting gibberish at her. She remembered the smell of rotting limes, and a bitter taste crept up her throat.
She heard a distant echo shouting her name, then she felt a hand on her shoulder, its grip firm as it shook her. She tried to focus on the hand, and listened to the voice. “Lori? You look like hell, please tell me you have a couple left?”
The world around her spun as a red hue took over her vision; everything looked distorted and vile. All around her, buildings began to crumble, as the sky opened up and vomited black clouds from a bright hole made of fire. The hands on her body were less noticeable, and her pulse grew louder and louder. She tried to scream, but there were hands covering her mouth.
A gruff, raspy voice shouted, “Bite it, bite it and taste the sweet nectar of the dream world.” She felt something small and hard between her tongue and cheek. She bit down, tasting something thick and sour. As the small drop of liquid evaporated on her tongue, a flash of bright colors washed over her.
She felt warm and comfortable inside; happy, almost tranquil. The visions stopped instantly, and she could see the streetlight’s pale glow as the parked car in front of her came into focus. The ringing in her ears was gone, and her headache was nothing but a distant memory.
“What the…?” Bryan was sitting next to her, a look of worry plastered upon his face. “Are you alright? You looked like you were about to crash out on me there for a moment.”
Lori looked around, confused and dazed. She wasn’t exactly sure what had just happened, the sky had turned red, and she remembered her visions. Yet, that all disappeared when the capsule exploded in her mouth, and she felt focused and alert now.
“Bryan, what did you do to me?” She couldn’t comprehend what had just taken place.
Bryan shook his head and pulled out from behind the parked car and continued down the street. “No wonder you looked so out of it. When’s the last time you bit down on an XD?”
Lori was more confused than before. “XD? What the hell is an XD?”
Bryan laughed out loud, looking at her as if she had just cracked a hilarious joke. “Xanidem! You know? The pill I just shoved down your throat? The same junk you’ve been taking for the past two weeks?” He lit up another cigarette as the music ended and some DJ began to read the local weather report.
“Two weeks?” Had it really been two weeks? How long had she been out for? She pulled her phone from her pocket and checked the date. February 23, ten days since she remembered leaving the dorm room with Nakia. She thought the blackouts had lasted only for the day, not spanning their second week. What was going on with her? She felt sweat begin to form upon her face as the panic formed a cold, heavy pit at the bottom of her stomach.
“Ten days?” she muttered aloud. How was it possible for her to lose ten whole days’ worth of memory? Had she been in an accident? Maybe that’s why her head hurt and her body ached so severely? Maybe she had suffered a head injury of some kind? It would explain the memory loss and could be the cause of all her headaches. “Bryan, was I really out for ten days?”
Bryan shot her a confused look, “Out? What do you mean out?” He turned his head back to the road as he slowed the car to a slow roll as he searched the car-lined sidewalk, searching for a place to park.
All the questions soon faded as she looked at the two-story house Bryan was maneuvering in front of. She remembered the interior of the house, yet she had no idea how, or when she had ever been here before. The strange familiarity caused her stomach to squirm as she experienced a calming lightheadedness. She felt another warm sensation filling her body as she remembered sitting on a ragged old couch in front of a large flat screen TV. There was a cheap coffee table with all sorts of marijuana paraphernalia scattered about it, accompanied by empty soda cans and beer bottles.
She then remembered lying on a bed, staring at the textured ceiling as sounds of a struggle surrounded her. There were shouts and heavy thumping sounds as the room spun slowly around her. She tasted blood on her lips and felt a strange satisfying sense of fulfillment. She closed her eyes and found herself running down a dark alley, windowless brick walls on either side of her. A flickering streetlight could be seen in the distance as the sounds of electronic static filled her ears.
A flash of white swallowed her as she shook her head gently, trying to regain her hold on the present situation. She exited the small Toyota and followed Bryan up the walkway toward the front door.
The front of the house was faded and could benefit from a few coats of paint. She could feel the vibrations as Bryan slammed his fist against the door heavily. A cat hid beneath one of the bare bushes growing under the front window. She didn’t actually see anything, yet somehow she knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt it was there, staring at her with those glowing green eyes. She could feel their cold gaze piercing straight through her with a wave of mistrust and discomfort. Lori shivered as she pulled her coat tightly around her body, praying that the chill was just from the late February winds.
As the chill crept through her body, she waited impatiently as a figure cracked open the front door. She could barely make out a pale face hidden beneath a waterfall of messy brown curls. She could see the reflection of the streetlight glistening on thick lenses, held up by a pair of wire frames. They belonged to a small man, who slouched at the shoulders, giving him the appearance that he was nearly two inches shorter than he really was.
He whispered something in a harsh raspy voice, as the wrinkles on his face told stories of long sleepless nights, prematurely aging him, giving him the appearance of a thirty-five year old man.
Bryan spoke in a calm, clear voice. “We’re Jeremy’s friends; we’re here for the XD caps?”
The man at the door eyed her suspiciously as Bryan added quickly, “She’s with me; she’s cool.”
The door shut, and she could make out the sound of metal scraping across metal, most likely a chain holding the door. That seemed odd to her, since she hadn’t noticed any chain while the door was open. Normally missing a tiny detail like this wouldn’t have bothered her, yet she was so alert to everything around her, unable to explain the strange clarity she was experiencing.
The door opened with a slow deep groan and she followed Bryan inside, as he made his way toward the living room area. She saw worn posters for old 90s slasher films hanging loosely from the walls. Most of them were faded and torn, or dangling from a single pushpin, obviously neglected by the enthusiast who placed them everywhere.
A pale light shining in the kitchen dimly lit the house; and she glanced at two ragged-looking couches placed around a glass coffee table. The table was littered with ashtrays, cigarette butts, and old fast food wrappers scattered amidst empty beer cans. As her eyes adjusted, she noticed a large flat screen TV against the far wall sitting atop a beat up Wal-Mart-quality entertainment center.
Bryan sat down and motioned for her to do so as well. Lori became unfortunately aware of the stale odor of urine seeping from the couch, causing her to cringe as she slowly lowered herself down onto the least torn cushion she could find. As she took her seat, a wave of red haze overtook her, and she began to drift into another flash of visions.
She could hear screaming, a familiar voice shouting frantically for someone to run. Her eyes closed and she felt herself falling backwards as a thousand voices echoed in the long tunnel of her mind.
The frantic cries of, “No, please stop!” became clear, followed by, “You don’t want to do this!” She was standing in a crowded dark room with colored lights flashing, and strobes flickering. She could feel a heavy beat resonating throughout her body. The pulsing music gave her a sense of calmness, and she felt a wave of euphoria pass over here as a deep voice called out to her, “Wake up.”
She felt herself moving as Bryan nudged her again. “Lori, wake up! This is definitely not the time or the place to be falling asleep, sweetheart.”
Lori twisted her neck; the popping sensation helped clear her mind as she straightened up and waited.
Bryan looked nervous and exhausted, the dark circles beneath his eyes suggested he had been awake for a long time. Ten days had passed by without her knowledge. It frightened her, especially since nobody around her had seemed to notice she had been missing. Maybe she hadn’t been missing? What if she had just lost her memory somehow?
Her curiosity grew as she wondered how she might figure out what events had taken place recently. Biting nervously upon her lower lip, she decided to check the messages on her phone. Perhaps she had placed a call or one of her conversations might give her a clue as to what was going on. Her eyes widened as she discovered that aside from the text she had received from Bryan earlier, all of her texts had been completely cleared out. She wrinkled her brow, puzzled. Her call logs, as well as her email, had all been deleted. She scrolled through her browser history and found that had been purged as well.
It was odd to find her phone wiped clear of any contacts; she had never been in the habit of clearing out her inbox, much less her call logs. Before she had time to question this any further, the older man returned, holding a re-sealable bag of Skittles, which looked to be half full. He tossed the bag of candy onto Bryan’s lap and sat on the couch off to the left.
Bryan opened the bag and peered in, nodding with a satisfied smile as he glanced over at Lori, an expectant look in his eyes. Shifting uncomfortably, she glanced from Bryan, to the man with glasses, then back to Bryan.
The mood in the room grew awkward, and Bryan nodded at her impatiently once more before whispering harshly, “Money?”
Lori’s confusion grew as she held up both hands, a look of confusion and fear plastered upon her face.
He let out a sigh and whispered, “You usually keep it in the inside pocket of your jacket, now quit playing and pay the man so we can get the hell out of here.”
Lori wanted to cry, she was so confused, she had no idea what was happening, or how she had even gotten herself into this situation. Tears filled the corners of her eyes as her vision began to blur slightly. She reached shoved both hands into her jacket pockets only to find her keys in the left, and a few small capsules in the right. Her heart began to race as she moved her right hand into the inside pocket, and her fingers brushed against a chaotic wad of crumpled paper. She wrapped her fingers around the wad and removed it slowly, seeing assorted bills folded up into a thick wad of cash. The top was a fifty-dollar bill; she reached over and handed the money to Bryan, who shot her an angry look.
“It’s all there, but feel free to count it,” he said as the man with glasses snatched the wad from his fingers and began to thumb through the bills. As he came to the bottom of the stack, he looked at Lori. “There’s too much here; it’s five bucks a pop on the streets, you guys only pay three.”
Her mouth dropped open and a high-pitched croak resonated as Bryan spoke up in her place. “Sorry. Just take what we owe; she’s had a rough night, I think the come down hit her pretty hard.”
The conversation in the room began to fade as the throbbing in her head began to pulse and overwhelm her. Lori gripped her head as her eyes throbbed and she pressure built up inside of her head.
The pressure instantly vanished and she opened her eyes to find herself in a long, dark, empty hallway. It reminded her of an abandoned hospital. The pale flickering light bulbs overhead barely illuminated the shadows that crept along the walls.
She began to walk forward, cautiously, as if she expected the floor beneath her to break away and send her falling to her death. She could hear the sound of nails, or claws against the walls all around her, as an eerie whisper caused her to turn around.
A small old woman wearing a hospital gown stood behind her, nearly an arm’s length away. Her hair was a mixture of gray and brown, her eyes pools of blackness. Her mouth opened up to reveal a toothless smile. “Such a beautiful night,”she whispered.
Lori turned away, only to find the old woman standing directly in front of her, blocking her escape. The old woman placed a hand on her shoulder and pulled her close, smelling of mold. “You’ve been away for far too long…” Then she screamed, a demon-like howling as the lights exploded above her.
“What the fuck was that all about? Are you trying to get us both killed?”
Lori opened her eyes and found herself in the car with Bryan; he was covered in sweat and driving at a dangerously high speed. The tiny engine whined under the strain as he swerved through the traffic lights and down the street.
“Killed?” she muttered. “I’m sorry, I didn’t remember I was carrying any money, or I would have…”
The look on Bryan’s face forced her to stop mid-sentence. He looked furious, as if he were about to strike her, or shove her out of the moving car. “Money?” he shouted. “You meant that shit from last night? What the hell does that have to do with anything right now?” He slammed on the brakes, and then cut a sharp right. The tires squealed and whined as he straightened out the car and slowed his speed. “Lori, what the hell is going on with you lately? It’s as if you’re two different people and there’s no warning as to which one you are at any given moment.” He made another turn and rolled to a stop, parking behind a car along the side of a busy street. “Listen, I don’t know what happened last night at Harry’s. I don’t care. He thought you were funny, and I understand it takes you a while to get yourself together after waking up, but tonight? What the fuck were you thinking?”
The old woman’s face flashed before her eyes, smiling, laughing with those empty eyes.
Lori felt stiffness in her neck as she twisted it slowly until it popped. She felt the pressure in her head slowly creep back as she looked him in the eyes. “Bryan! The last thing I remember was sitting on the couch in some guy’s house and you asking me to give him money. Then I had a headache and the next thing I know I’m here with you and you’re screaming at me and driving like a maniac! Everything between then and right now is a complete loss to me, so just back off and quit swearing at me!”
Her blood pumped furiously in her veins. The anger and frustration had replaces any fear she might have been feeling previously. Now she was just angry, and she wanted to hurt Bryan.
He flipped off the headlights and turned toward her. “So you don’t remember anything at all? For real? No joke?”
She nodded and stared out the front window, noticing a Colorado license plate attached to the rear bumper of the car they were parked behind. “Bryan, I don’t remember much of anything that’s been happening recently. It scares me, it really does.” She lowered her gaze to her hands, which were resting in her lap, wet with blood. She rubbed them against her pants and looked up at him. “Please, tell me, what happened?”
Bryan leaned back in the driver side seat and lit up a cigarette as he filled her in on the recent events of the evening. He had picked her up earlier that night to hit up one of the clubs downtown; everything had been going smoothly until he had seen her arguing with a bouncer.
As she listened to his recap of the events, she shook her head, unable to see herself acting in such a way. She had always been quiet and antisocial, usually afraid to speak to anyone she wasn’t familiar with. Listening to Bryan tell her how she had been asked to empty her pockets, and her response of smashing a beer glass into the bouncer’s face seemed more fantasy than anything else.
“That’s not like me at all. I wouldn’t do something like that,” she said in a soft tone.
He rolled down his window and flicked the cigarette butt out into the busy street. “Not like you, huh?” He chuckled. “Sweetheart, you’re one of the craziest people I know, man or woman, you’ve been running non-stop since I met you at the party two weeks ago.”
She shook her head, looking down at her hands once again. The blood was beginning to dry and flake off as she rubbed her hands together, hoping that this was just some sort of joke, or a bad dream.
The pressure in her head built up as her mind became cloudy and she heard the scratching sounds echoing in her mind once again. She clenched her fists and tried to focus on Bryan, not wanting to drift away and wake up in an even worse situation than the one she was currently in.
As she closed her eyes, she could hear Bryan’s voice, keeping her firmly planted in the current situation. “Don’t fall asleep on me now, here take and XD, those always tend to wake you up.”
She felt something small and plastic slip between her lips, as her body automatically took over, biting down on the tiny capsule. The warm, thick, sweetness spread throughout her, and she felt awake and alert, filled with that familiar calmness she had experienced while standing outside of the house the night before. It was comforting, and she smiled as she allowed the warmth to spread all throughout her body, crawling beneath her skin, like fiery fingers caressing her insides.
She turned toward Bryan and smiled. “Thanks, I don’t know what you gave me, but it worked, I feel so much better now.”
The odd look of surprise and confusion on his face made him seem boyish, and vulnerable. He shook his head. “You ready to go in?”
Lori nodded, now realizing that the house they were parked in front of contained a large house party. Heavy industrial music thundered from within the walls as she and Bryan approached the front door. Inside was chaotic, as most of these collage parties tended to be.
Bryan grasped her hand and pressed a small baggy filled with pills into her hand. He cupped his hand toward her and shouted over the blaring music, “Don’t take them all yourself; we still have pay Harry for the load.”
Lori nodded and began to lose herself in the small crowd gathered in the living room. She didn’t recognize anyone in the house, and the feeling of unease began to overtake her.
She wasn’t a pill pusher; she had no idea how to approach someone with the intention of selling them drugs. Drugs she now realized she was currently taking. A chill danced down her spine as she made her way through the living room in search of a bathroom. She forced her way past a couple of girls holding the signature red plastic cups and closed the bathroom door behind her.
She dug into her pocket and retrieved the bag of pills Bryan had given her. They were oddly shaped, long and slender, almost glowing. She pulled one out of the bag and rubbed it between her fingers, nervously. She had the urge to place it in her mouth and bite down upon it. She was out of her element, and she craved that warm, happy sensation she had experienced before entering the house.
She rolled the pill between her thumb and forefinger before slipping it into her mouth. She let it tumble upon her tongue, feeling excited as it clicked against her teeth. Lori closed her eyes as she tilted her head back and slowly bit down upon the pill. She felt the warmth caress her inner being, like a lover’s embrace, long forgotten. She saw herself moving about the house, speaking with strangers, laughing at jokes, and drinking random homebrewed cocktails made from assorted liquors and energy drinks. She could see the pills exchanging hands as she sat upon the toilet and watched her body go through automatic motions, as easily as if she had done this a thousand times.
The pressure in her head had faded away, only to be replaced with a pleasant buzzing sensation. Her ear rang slightly, yet she could feel her lips curl up into a smile.
As she watched herself pocket large stacks of dollar bills, she opened her eyes; only find herself walking to the car with Bryan. He was laughing, with his arm around her, pulling her close into him. She could feel his heart beating against her shoulder as they strolled down the walkway, her mouth still curled up into a smile.
“I knew we could unload all of these things, I just didn’t know we would be able to do it all in one spot! Maybe you messing up that bouncer was a good thing after all?”
Lori opened her mouth to speak; yet as the words left her mouth, the world began to fade into black. Her own voice became nothing more than a distant echo as she felt herself slipping away back into the dark hallway…
This time she found herself in an empty parking lot, well lit, yet empty of anyone other than herself. She saw a single car parked down the ramp, a car similar to Nikki’s Honda Civic.
As she approached, she felt cold, claw-like fingers gripping her shoulder. Her breath froze in her throat as she twisted to break free of the grasp, only to feel more clawed fingers grasp her legs and arms. She could see the steam of her breath in the cold night’s air, adding to her panic.
Lori tried to run, yet felt her muscles stiffen and slow as the icicle-like fingers pulled at her body, preventing her from reaching the car, and a white light exploded noiselessly behind her.
As the silent light enveloped her, she felt herself awaken. She was in her room again. The chaotic mess she had remembered awakening to had vanished, only to reveal the same blank walls and bare tile floor. She glanced over at her nightstand and was shocked to see her alarm clock, resting untouched upon it, next to her charging smartphone. The red display read 3:45 AM, and she fell back onto her mattress. She was no longer dressed; instead she found herself wearing her pajama bottoms and a sports bra. The cold winter air was forcing itself into her room through the open window. Her dorm room appeared to be as she had left it before leaving for the party. Her head was throbbing, and she once again went through the automatic motion of popping her neck, which always relieved the pressure.
What had actually happened? Had it all been a dream? Had she even gone out to the party with Nikki? Was Bryan just someone she had imagined spending so many nights with? What about his drug she had been taking? This XD? Was she really addicted to some new designer drug Jeremy had passed her? More importantly, what day was it?
She sat up and grabbed her phone, flicking the touch screen and gazing in horror at the timestamp displayed across her lock screen. March 22, 2013. She remembered the last time she had checked her phone, February 23. How had she lost track of an entire month?
Cold beads of sweat trickled down her cheeks as she turned toward the open window. She jumped back as she saw a black and white cat sitting on the ledge, glaring at her with glowing green eyes. A stabbing sensation passed through her chest as the feline turned away and leapt from the ledge through the window.
Her heart raced, and she crawled across her mattress and stood, leaning over her nightstand to peer out her third-floor window. The cat was nowhere to be seen. Had she imagined it? What in the world was happening to her?
She fell back onto her bed, and tried her best to regain her grip on the situation. Yet, the more she let her mind wander, the more frightened she became…
By Jason Foley
Closing her eyes did little to help her escape the terror she felt building up within her gut. An entire month had passed her by with her remembering less than a day. Her brain was a complete train wreck as she scoured her memories, hoping to piece together some sort of timeline in which she might make sense of everything. There were so many questions running through her head, and she had no idea which ones to ask first. Sitting up, she glanced about her room. She remembered Nikki knocking on her door, and the two of them leaving in her Honda Civic. They arrived at someone’s house for a large party; it was to get her out of her room and to mingle with some new faces. She had spent a large amount of time sitting on a couch alone, isolated until Nikki and Jeremy pulled her into an empty bedroom and began speaking about having some extra fun. That’s where her mind went blank. Nothing followed his words, no images, faces, time, or places. The next thing she remembered was waking up with the world’s worst headache and smashing her alarm clock. She had made it to the shower room down the hall and had drunk as much water as her stomach could hold.
After her shower, she had woken up to a text from Bryan, a guy she barely knew. She had taken another shower and gotten dressed to head over to some guy’s house with him. Her room had been trashed at that point, and her chair had been propped up against the door. She sighed with frustration, as she began to rack her brain for pieces of the events that unfolded within the past month. As she shifted herself, sitting upright on the edge of her bed, she took in her immaculate room and tried to piece together what little she remembered. She had gone from sleeping in fear of someone breaking in, to sleeping with the window wide open, and the door unlocked. Her head throbbed, and she realized her throat was dry as she spied a half-empty bottle of water resting on her nightstand. She snatched it up, tearing the lid off as she sucked the liquid so furiously the plastic collapsed in upon itself. The small amount of water did almost nothing to soothe the dryness in her throat. The water only made her more aware of her extreme thirst. She stood up briskly, and made her way toward the door. Her throat felt as if she were constantly trying to swallow a wadded up piece of paper with each breath she took. She threw open her door, taking a sharp left as she walked briskly down the hallway. Her bare feet made a slapping sound against the linoleum floor with each footstep.
Her breathing became more difficult, and with each breath her throat felt as if it were closing slowly, as the imaginary wad of paper grew to gigantic proportions, and her swallow reflex became useless. Placing her hand on the wall and leaning over slightly, she noticed a piece of cardboard taped to a twisted mess of aluminum sheets and pipes. She let out a groan as she passed by the wreckage and fell forward into the bathroom, gripping the edge of the porcelain sink as she twisted the cold-water faucet. She cupped her hands and slurped the water into her mouth. The rushing liquid splashed all over her face and sports bra. She turned the water pressure down slightly then angled her head, allowing the water to pour into her open mouth. She gulped it down greedily, gasping for breath between swallows. Her muscles relaxed with each mouthful she consumed, but her stomach began to ache as she filled it beyond its capacity. She fell to the floor and scrambled for the toilet, unable to prevent her body from forcing the recently consumed liquid from her mouth in steady, bitter-tasting gushes.
Leaning over the toilet, she stared at the reflection of the light in the rippling water. Nothing but water and a little stomach bile had come out. She felt a wave of heat rush up from her stomach and wash through her entire body as she blinked the tears away from her eyes. The wad of paper in her throat had shrunk back, leaving only a dim, mild thirst in its place. She wanted more water, but her stomach needed time. It couldn’t handle the sheer volume of liquid she had forced into it in a matter of seconds. She fell backwards into a sitting position, placing her hands behind her. The cool linoleum tiles felt good against her hands, providing a small amount of comfort.
“What on earth is going on around here?” she whispered to the empty room, her voice echoing off the walls of the small stall she now temporarily resided in. Why was she so thirsty? It felt as if she hadn’t drank anything in days. A skittering sound caused her to jump. She turned around, only to catch a glimpse of a furry, four-legged black and white animal staring menacingly at her. Her eyes were locked with the cat’s, as she slowly moved closer. As she reached out her hand, slowly with her palm up, it dashed away, silently. She turned her head toward the door, instantly feeling foolish, knowing full well a cat wouldn’t be able to open the heavy bathroom door.
She laid flat, pressing her face against the cold floor, searching for any sign of the cat. Unable to catch even a glimpse of the animal, she rose to her feet, searching each individual stall. The cat resembled the one in her bedroom, which had leapt out the window. Was it possible that this cat was the same? Or was it only similar in appearance? Strangely, the cat looked very familiar to her as she scoured the final stall, wondering where she had seen it before. Her head began to throb slightly as she forced the thoughts of the cat from her mind. Had she imagined it? There was no sign of anything at all, and no possible way for a cat to exit the restroom. Unless it had simply vanished into thin air, but that was ridiculous. Lori made her way back to the sink, reaching out to twist off the running faucet. As she approached she did a double take at the image in the mirror. It was her, well; it looked very much like her, only different. She looked pale and weak, as if she had become anorexic, or had just recovered from a long-term illness. Lifting a hand to her face, she traced the dark circles beneath her eyes with her fingers. She could hardly recognize who she was looking at, as the loose skin and deteriorated muscle tone was easy to see in her scantily clad state of dress.
Lori let her hand fall from her face, bracing herself on the edge of the sink as she leaned closer to the mirror. Her eyes resembled black pools, reflecting the overhead light. Suddenly her face became twisted, as the lights in the room flickered then went out in a blink. She heard a screech as a flash of white filled the room, revealing her own face twisted, and broken, blood pouring down her face like teardrops. Another flash, and an old woman stood behind her with a wrinkled hand outstretched, reaching for her.
Blackness and screams filled the room, until a red light flickered on, and she could see herself in the mirror once again, her blonde hair was black and dripping, her eyes empty pits as blood poured from both sockets. A skinless, slender form rested its chin upon her left shoulder, as a broken-toothed smile formed and a long pointy-fingered hand rested atop her head. The figure turned and screamed into her ear before all the lights flickered back on, and she found herself laying on her back, sitting upright halfway across the floor. She darted her eyes frantically from the mirror, to the lights, then to the faucet, still running half blast.
She slowly rose to her feet, attempting to shake the fog from her head as she did. She cautiously approached the sink once again, slowly lifting her eyes to the mirror, only to find her face unchanged, and just as she had always appeared. She no longer saw the sickly shadow of herself, nor did the skinless figure return.
She sighed with relief as she cupped her hands and splashed the cold running water onto her face. The cooling liquid felt amazing against her burning hot skin, and she twisted off the faucet as she wiped the water from her eyes. She blew out a deep breath, as a tiny jingle caught her attention. As her eyes refocused, the reflection in the mirror, revealed the black and white cat, sitting upright behind her. He heart skipped a beat as she spun around, only to be greeted with an empty floor and a flicker from the overhead fluorescent light. She twisted about left and right, feeling panic build up within her gut. Had she lost her mind completely? She fought her initial instinct of bolting from the room and dashing down the hallway screaming and forced herself to take a deep breath and hold it.
Her heartbeat slowed as she blew the air from her lungs through puckered, cracked lips. The throbbing in her head began to grow, and she automatically twisted her neck, feeling relief as the popping of the vertebra rattled her teeth.
“Well, at least that’s one problem I can easily solve,” she mumbled as she made her way toward the door. As she placed her hand against the metal sheet bolted to the heavy wood, she glanced back over her shoulder, half expecting to see the cat, or the old woman behind her. She chuckled a bit as she exited the restroom and made her way back down the hallway and toward her dorm room. Moving cautiously, she continued to glance about her path, half expecting the walls to weep blood, or some other crazy nonsense to occur. These visions were disturbing, frightening, like something out of a horror movie. She wanted them to stop; yet, at the same time, she felt a cold comfort during the flashes. There was as strange familiarity to them, as if she were returning from a long journey.
She opened the door to her dorm room and flipped on the light switch, making her way over to her desk. She scanned the surface, which was littered with books and notes from classes she didn’t remember attending. Nothing seemed amiss, with the exception of her memory being a blank slate. She sat down in her chair, skimming the sloppy handwriting, which filled the pages of her notebooks. The notes made little sense, and were in no particular order, some written in blue ink, and other pages written in pencil or black ink. The handwriting was definitely her own; however it was crude, and messy, as if she had written with her left hand. Lori retrieved one of the pens from her pencil cup and flipped to a blank page in her notebook. She began to jot down everything she could remember in the order she believed it had occurred.
She began with the party she attended with Nikki, taking her time to carefully describe every detail she could remember. She wrote about Jeremy, the pills, the strange visions, and the headaches that followed when she awoke. As the blank pages began to fill, she had difficulty recalling the tiny details of events. She finished with her experience in the restroom and stretched her arms, yawning. She flipped back to the first page and began to read. In a separate notebook, she drew two columns, one labeled “real” and the other labeled “dream” As she read the descriptions of events, she jotted notes in each column. As she finished, she realized the column marked “dreams” was significantly longer than her list of actual events. She re-read the lists, wondering why it was impossible to remember so little over the past month. Biting her lip, she scribbled the actually dates and times she could still recall in the margins next to the events she labeled as reality.
She glanced at the alarm clock, which read five-fifteen in the morning. She lifted it from its resting place on her nightstand. She flipped it over; the back-up battery was in place, and the plastic cover undamaged. She replaced it, confused, remembering clearly destroying the clock. The brutal sound of the alarm had caused her to smash it after ripping out the backup battery. Despite her clear recollection of that event, here she was, holding the very same clock, perfectly intact, with the same familiar scratches on the face. She replaced the clock and sat down heavily on the edge of her mattress. She opened the drawer on her nightstand, her eyes widening at the medium-sized plastic bag filled with the pills she remembered taking a few times. Looking at them sent a wave of warmth through her. Her mouth began to salivate as she stared at the bag. She craved the bitter taste, the warm feeling. She reached for the bag, yet froze, as her eyes rested upon a stack of money held together with a rubber band.
Thumbing through the stack of bills, she took note that none of the bills were smaller than twenty. Most of them were hundreds, with a few fifties mixed in. Her heart stopped dead and cold within her chest when she also noticed a black gun inside of the drawer. She dropped the stack of money, and lifted the gun up. It was heavy and cold. She had never seen a gun in real life, much less held one before. She carefully placed it back inside of her drawer, unsure whether it would go off in her hands or not. Where in the world did a gun come from? How did it get in her drawer? Whose drugs were in the bag? Whose money was sitting next to the pills? Was someone coming back for them? Lori wanted to cry as she imagined the older man with the glasses breaking into her room, demanding she pay him. She picked the stack of money from the floor and tossed it into the drawer, slamming it shut. Her head began to throb and cracking her neck did little to relieve the buildup of pressure.
As her headache worsened, and the blood began to pulsate behind her eyes, Lori ripped open the drawer of her nightstand. She tore open the plastic bag, spilling pills across the bare floor. The rattle of the capsules hitting the tiles rang within her inner ear as she nearly dove face first from her bed and onto the floor. The thin plastic-like pills pressed against her moist skin as she snatched one up and popped it into her mouth, swallowing. As she waited for the warm calming feeling to kick in, she realized the bitter taste was missing. She snatched up another pill and popped it into her mouth, taking time to roll it along her tongue this time as if she had performed this ritual a thousand times before. The automatic motions of her mouth made her wonder how she had managed to swallow the pill whole the first time. She could taste the sweet time-release coating on the outside of the capsule as she gently placed it between her molars and bit down in a slow, steady motion. The bitter warmth spread slowly throughout her body as she closed her eyes and let the wave of calmness carry her away from her panic. Rolling to her side, she smiled as the headache disappeared and a wave of red color passed before her eyes. The pills, the room, and all of her fears began to melt away into nothingness, and she could hear laughter as everything faded into blackness.
She opened her eyes quickly, half expecting to wake up in a different time, and place, yet found herself laying on top of her bed, still wearing her pajama bottoms and sports bra. The pills still lay scattered across the floor of her dorm room. She sat up slowly, feeling warm and calm. She carefully scooped up the pills and placed then in neat even rows inside of her drawer. She smiled as she picked up the gun, her hands moving automatically through the motion of unloading, checking, and reloading it. She felt a stranger in her own body as she was aware, yet not in control of her actions.
Lori watched in shock as she unlocked her phone, quickly typed out a message she couldn’t make out, and then began to dress herself. She glanced at the alarm clock, yet the numbers were all scrambled, making no sense to her at all. She blinked, closing her eyes tightly, only to find herself in a crowded hallway. She could hear herself chatting with people she didn’t recognize, as she made her way toward a classroom. Her eyes began to throb as she took her seat near the back, and the professor began her lecture. The dark cloud of red smoke came up from behind her as she tried to scream, unable to move from her seat. She watched as her hands scribbled notes, completely unaware of the raging storm creeping up from behind her.
Thunder rolled as she willed herself to stand up, or move. As the wave of red fog burst throughout the room, her vision blurred, and the lights flickered out. She was left in complete darkness for what felt like an eternity, and then the pale red light illuminated the entire classroom. When her eyes adjusted to the low light, she saw the professor lecturing was no longer the woman who initially began the lecture. In her place stood a figure wearing a long, black, hooded cloak. The voice, which emanated from the black pit where the face should have been, spoke in an unearthly tone. The words weren’t in any language she had ever heard in her lifetime. As she watched the dark figure pace back and forth, the podium had been replaced with some sort of altar, with a twisted-looking black root placed atop it. There were candles everywhere, yet nobody else seemed to notice anything was amiss. The rest of her class only scribbled notes, and a few nodded as if they understood everything the figure had been saying. The figure then swept past the altar, tipping over the candles, one by one. As they fell, the twisted root began to smolder, emitting a thick black smoke, which filled the room with a pungent odor.
Had the entire class lost their minds? Was she the only one who noticed anything wrong? She began to scream for help, the echo of her voice resonating within her body, yet not a sound escaped from her lips. Her body remained still, while she watched, horrified, as the figure raised its arms up high above its head. As the figure’s voice grew louder, the flames began to die down and the twisted root seemed to writhe and move as it changed shape. Lori’s eyes were locked upon the root, as the shape moved about and melt into the face of the old woman she had seen in her visions. As the mouth formed, it smiled, and began to cackle with a hideous laughter that drove her mad.
She was a prisoner in her own body, and nobody could help her. She felt herself lashing about, throwing her arms wildly and screaming for someone, anyone, to help her. Yet she didn’t move, not even so much as a twitch. Meanwhile the entire classroom appeared to be oblivious to the nightmarish scene unfolding in front of them all. She closed her eyes as she heard the most terrifying, and disgusting wail come from the mouth of the old woman in the root. The scream pierced her brain and rang within her ears, and she tried to force the sound from reaching her. She screamed back, hoping that her voice could drown out the wailing from the root. Then the rolling thunder consumed her and everything went black.
“Lori? Are you all right?” She jumped as she opened her eyes, only to find herself back in her original classroom. The lights were once again illuminating the room with the low-pitched electronic buzz. All around her people were gathering up their notebooks and class materials and exiting the classroom. There was no sign of any fire, or the root, and the black hooded figure was once again her professor, who was currently speaking with one of her classmates about something she couldn’t quite hear, nor did she really care to hear.
“Hey, are you alright?”
She turned her head and saw a girl she didn’t recognize standing above her. She had placed her hand upon Lori’s shoulder, with look of concern on her face.
Lori nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine, just tired is all.” She gathered up her books, and began to make her way out the door. She pulled out her phone and glanced at the date. It was Monday, March 25, 2013, only a day or so since she had last checked the time. She didn’t feel groggy, and her head wasn’t throbbing. However, she still felt as if something just wasn’t right. She felt off, the warm feeling had worn off, but she still felt calm, and alert. She exited the classroom, and pushed through the crowded hallway, random visions entering her head like a faded slideshow.
She could hear distant voices, screaming, and pleading once again. “Stop, please, you don’t wanna do this!” She knew she should recognize the voices; yet, she couldn’t match any of the m with a face or an identity. She was thrust back into reality by the sensation of her phone vibrating in her hand. There was a text message from Bryan, asking her to meet him in her dorm room later that evening.
Lori was still befuddled, and her head was throbbing as the images of the classroom began to fade away only to be replaced with a ringing sensation within her ears. Dryness developed in her throat and began to grow as she wandered toward the break area, hoping to find a vending machine or a water fountain. She rummaged through her book bag, hoping to find her wallet or at least enough loose change to buy a bottle of water. As she opened the door to the break area, she saw a group of students huddled around the ceiling-mounted TV. There was a news report airing live and on location in one of the shopping centers nearby.
Lori bypassed the group of students crowded near the TV and deposited some change into a vending machine. As she sipped on the refreshing bottle of water, her body relaxed, as the harsh dryness in her throat began to subside. She slowly wandered over toward the rear of the crowd and stood on her tiptoes, hoping to catch a peek of the screen. What she saw caused her to drop backwards upon her heels, nearly losing her balance and toppling onto the floor.
She reached out her hand and gripped the nearest table in order to stabilize herself. There was a picture of two young people, a girl and a boy, plastered upon the screen with the caption Found Dead and Mutilated in the Trunk of a Car. The was Jeremy Brooker, his hair messy and a lazy carefree expression. The blonde party girl was Nikia Pilkins. Nikki, Lori’s best friend, had been murdered, and she didn’t even know how long it had been since they’d spoken. Had she seen her a few days ago, had it been over a week, or longer?
The muscles in her legs grew weak, and began to shake. She set the bottle of water down, uncapped, upon the table. She let her book bag slide from her shoulder as she sat down in the nearest empty chair. Nobody in the room seemed to even notice her; they were all glued to the news report. She could see people turning and whispering to each other. Most likely about the last time they had seen either of the two, if they had even known them. Her ears began to ring, as the throbbing in her head became more and more intense. She clutched her head with both of her hands, as she began hearing a thousand voices all at once; some of them questioning, some shouting, others laughing. It was chaotic, and her vision began to blur as she bit down on her lower lip, praying this was all just a bad dream. She opened her eyes and found herself alone in the break area. Everyone who had previously occupied the room had vanished; but the TV was still on, playing a loop of the report from earlier. The time stamp on the corner of the headline read five-fifteen PM. She must have passed out when her headache started.
She spied her half-empty water bottle and snatched it up, gulping vigorously as she turned her gaze back toward the TV screen. Nikki and Jeremy’s bodies had been dismembered and found in the trunk of Nikki’s car. The car had been abandoned in the parking lot of the large shopping center near Tyson’s Corner in Virginia. It had been parked there for almost a month when someone complained of a terrible odor and notified mall security. There was no footage of the remains, which she was thankful for.
The image of her trashed dorm room came crashing into her thoughts, as her mind focused on the chair propped up against the door. Was the person who killed Nikki and Jeremy after her as well? Was that why she now had a loaded gun in the drawer of her nightstand, for protection? If that were the case, then why had she left her window wide open and her door unlocked? She tossed the empty bottle toward a large plastic garbage can near the door. The hollow clatter slightly drowned out the voice of the news anchor.
She stood up and slowly, yet firmly, twisted her neck until it popped; not wanting to risk another migraine developing on her way back to her dorm room. She checked her phone and saw she had missed three calls and nine text messages from Bryan. Most of the messages were asking where she was, all except for the last one, which was a simple I’ll just see you tomorrow then.
Feeling sick to her stomach, she picked up her book bag and shouldered it as she made her way out of the break area and toward the front door. Her mind was a train wreck. So many unanswered questions, and no possible way of finding out what had been going on lately. At least, not without sounding like a crazed drug addict experiencing a bad reaction to some strange pill she had been taking.
She unlocked her phone and leaned against the bare brick wall as she glanced at her nearly empty contact list. It was strange only having three numbers programmed into her phone: Bryan, Jeremy and Nikki.
She sighed and struggled to remember the number to her parents’ house back in Maryland. She really needed to talk to someone back home, her mom, or dad, even her little sister would be tolerable at this point. She didn’t really care who answered; she just wanted to hear a familiar voice. She bit her lip, and started punching in numbers, struggling to remember anything after the area code. While she scratched her head, she heard a tiny jingle, causing her to look up momentarily.
A small black and white cat sat in front of her, just staring at her. The sight was so unexpected it startled her, causing her to drop her phone. Cursing under her breath, she knelt down and retrieved the phone from the floor, looking up to see the cat had disappeared.
“I must smell like tuna or something,” she muttered to herself as she once again made her way toward the exit, pocketing her phone and deciding she would call home at a later time. Her head was beginning to throb again, and she needed to lie down and process all of the terrible information that had so recently been bestowed upon her.
The campus was still alive with activity as multiple students hurried off in many assorted directions. She decided to skip grabbing dinner and headed back toward the dorms. All around her, people whispered about the murders. The bits and pieces of rumor dealt with everything from a serial killer to a jealous boyfriend.
Lori assumed that sometime soon the police would be knocking on her door, wanting to question her about the last time she had seen Nikki. Unfortunately, she could provide them with nothing but disappointment. She wouldn’t be able to explain her recent memory loss, and the last time she actually remembered speaking to Nikki was while they were at the house party. A party, which according to the calendar on her phone, took place over a month ago.
In a strange way, she almost looked forward to the police questioning her; maybe it would spark some memory she had recently lost. As she walked down the street toward the dorm building, the ringing sensation, which had hit her so hard earlier that day, began to return. The all too familiar pressure buildup behind her eyes embraced her like an old friend returning from a vacation.
As she entered her dorm, she dropped her bag on the floor and fell face forward onto her bed. The mattress and the mess of sheets and blankets were cool and comforting. She removed her jacket and dropped it at the foot of her bed, rolling onto her back as she sighed. Her headache was moderate, yet not incapacitating, at least not yet.
Staring at the ceiling, she began to think about what kind of trouble she might be in. If the police question her as thoroughly as she assumed they would, she might end up telling them about the pills she had been taking. That confession might lead to an entirely new line of questions, ones she wouldn’t be able to answer without someone wanting to put her in harm’s way.
She thought of the man with the glasses in his trashy urine-saturated house. Lori didn’t know him well enough to predict his reaction to the local police forcing their way into his home to arrest him. Then again, if she said anything about him she would also have to inform them about Bryan’s involvement.
She forced the thought from her mind, realizing she had no idea where the man even lived, or even how to get there from her dorm. Bryan had been driving that night, and she had been drifting in and out of her lucid state. Shifting to her side, she opened up the drawer on her nightstand. Much to her surprise, the pills were still where she had left them earlier. The gun and the stack of money, however, had gone missing. Before the panic could take effect, she took one of the pills and popped it into her mouth, biting down in her ritualistic fashion. As the warmth spread through her, she convinced herself that the money and gun had just been a dream, or an elaborate hallucination. She closed her eyes as the flood of red washed over her and carried her off into a dream world.
It felt as if she had submerged herself in a warm tub as she floated silently in a red sea of absolute calm. Her fingers uncurled and felt as if they were brushing against loose flower petals. Her lips curled up into a smile as the distant sound of music caressed her ears, relaxing her even further. Lori wanted to stay like this forever; it was peaceful, and calm, a relaxed sensation she had never before experienced. A soft voice, deep and rumbling, calling out to her, commanding something she couldn’t understand. The warmth slowly faded, and the voice transformed itself into a dull hiss. The deep echoing voice called out to her once again, but she didn’t want to open her eyes for fear of the visions returning. She was in a safe place now and wanted to linger here for just a moment longer before returning to the harsh reality of her life.
A cold wind cut through her skin, chilling her to the bone, as the dull hiss became white noise, blaring against her eardrums. The voice resounded once again, with a thundering command, “WAKE UP!”
Her eyes shot open, and she was greeted with a chaotic slideshow of random events. Blood covered her hands, the screams of someone begging her to stop as still photos of dark alleyways and streetlights flashed in front of her. The sound of an old woman laughing faded away into police sirens and more screams to stop. Then it all came to an abrupt stop, and silence swallowed her up, blanketing her in pure darkness. A tiny jingle cut through the wall of silence, and an overhead light clicked on to reveal a black and white cat sitting upright on its hind legs, staring at her.
“Wake up, you can’t sleep here. You’re scaring away all of my customers.”
Lori opened her eyes and found herself laying on a sidewalk near the entrance to a small café with a big blue awning. The Big Greek Café was displayed in white letters. She moved into a sitting position and looked up to see an elderly man standing above her.
He was wearing a cream-colored apron and spoke with a thick European accent, which Lori couldn’t identify but assumed was Greek. “Miss, you can’t sleep here. Please go away. I am losing business because of you blocking my door.”
She shook her head and looked around. “Where am I?”
The old man only glared back at her before shouting, “Go away or I call the police!”
Lori began to walk away, confused, lost, and most of all frightened beyond belief. She was wearing different clothes than when she had been laying on her bed. She checked her pockets, and found only her cell phone and a few pills. She unlocked her phone and checked the date stamp. Wednesday, March 27, 2013. Her pulse quickened as she checked her call and message logs, only to find that they were empty; somehow her contact list had been erased as well. She walked slowly to the end of the block and looked up at the street sign, hoping to figure out where exactly she had ended up.
The street sign read Thayer Ave, and none of the businesses looked familiar to her at all. There was still daylight out, and as she went to recheck her phone she felt the world spinning around her, and the sunlight faded into a blackened sky.
Night fell in an instant and she was no longer standing in front of the café, but in a dark alleyway. She dropped to her knees and gripped her head, hoping to slow down the spinning sensation. She felt a sticky wetness on her cheeks where her hands were pressed, and she opened her eyes to examine them. Thick blood was slowly drying upon both hands, and her clothes were covered in blood as well. She looked around the alley, fighting back the urge to scream at the top of her lungs. She saw a bloodstain next to her, still wet as if someone had been freshly injured where she was standing. The blood smear trailed off toward a large dumpster covered in flies and reeking of old grease from a deep fryer. Lori forced herself to stand up and continued to look around her. There were a few broken bottles scattered about and garbage bags tossed carelessly near the foul-smelling dumpster.
A few old cars were parked next to shabby wooden doors, and a single light illuminated the alley. Wiping her hands on the inside of her shirt, she pulled her jacket tightly around her. It wasn’t very cold out, yet she felt a chill that came from deep within her bones. There was nothing in her pockets this time, no phone, no wallet, no ID or anything. Sounds of traffic came from close by, as if she were very close to a busy street.
Her head began to throb, and popping her neck did nothing to relieve the pressure this time. The sound of her heart beating echoed in her ears as she took a careful step toward the dumpster. She felt dizzy and nauseous as she crept across the ally, her pulse drowning out any other sound. She edged closer, only a few steps away; the smell was overpowering, and she began to gag. Dropping to one knee, she began to dry heave, each breath of pungent air only causing stronger stomach spasms. Nothing exited her mouth, and no saliva built up, as she became increasingly aware of the wadded up sheet of sandpaper growing in her throat once again.
Lori gasped and crawled closer to the dumpster. She reached up and used the lip to pull herself to her feet. Leaning with one hand braced against the metal wall, she coughed and sputtered, attempting to swallow. She rummaged in her pockets, hoping to find another pill, or some candy, or gum, yet found only a small rock and some pocket lint, which stuck to her fingers as she attempted to wipe the sticky blood from her hands once again.
She stood up straight and tried her best to control her body. She saw the stocky metal grease trap located behind the dumpster. The lid was open as insects darted about above the opening. Lifting her shirt, she covered her nose and mouth as she inched over to the grease pit and pulled the lid, watching, as it slammed shut with a thunderous boom. The huge rush of rotten air hit her in the face like a baseball bat as she once again fell to her knees and coughed up pure stomach bile. The thick bitter stomach fluid dripped from her mouth, and she could feel the tears forming in her eyes, blurring her vision.
She wanted to run, but she had no idea where she was, or what had happened in this alley. It’s not every day you wake up in a dark alley covered in blood.
She heard a high-pitched laugh as she turned around to see the old woman, standing behind her. Those black, lifeless eyes were piercing as she held a hand outstretched and moved toward Lori.
She wanted to stand up and run, but found herself frozen in place, stiff as stone. The old woman walked toward her, her mouth forming a toothless smile as she whispered, “You’ve been away for far too long.” As the old woman’s hand touched Lori’s forehead, she erupted in a white flash, and black paper like ashes fluttered about in her place.
Lori shook her head and stood up slowly, feeling dizziness overcome her as she turned back toward the dumpster. The sliding door panel on the side was half open, and there was blood on the side dripping down, leaving a tiny pool at the base. A foul odor still radiated from the opening, and she took a deep breath and pulled the sliding door, so the opening was large enough for her to peer inside.
As she poked her head in, she let out her breath in a high-pitched blood-curdling scream. Inside, laying in a crumpled mess was a young man, with a gaping hole in his throat. She felt her stomach spasm again, as she fell backwards, hitting her head on the grease pit. She curled up into a ball, hugging her knees tightly against her chest. The pain in the back of her head was accompanied by a ringing in her ears as she attempted to stand up and run. She only succeeded in running toward the dumpster in her blind panic, nearly toppling inside. She looked at the boy’s face and screamed again, and then the entire world went black.
By Jason Foley
The blackness faded away and Lori heard voices echoing off in the distance. A bright pinpoint of light moved closer to her face as a swarm of echoes surrounded her, swallowing her into a cloud of indistinct, murmuring whispers.
The pinpoint grew in size, filling the blackness with pure white light, its intensity forcing her to squint as she raised her arms, attempting to block the brightness as the light swallowed her. Lori’s entire body trembled as everything around her began to shake as if she were caught in the middle of an earthquake.
As the shaking grew in its intensity, pressure built up within her ears and her hearing became muffled, as if she were listening to music under water. The heaviness in her chest made it nearly impossible to breathe as the light consumed everything and a high-pitched ringing chimed in her inner ear. The ringing blocked out all other sounds, and the light faded into blackness once again. She opened her eyes, and the darkness faded into a blurry mess filled with colors and shapes. The cloud of silence over her ears also began to lift as her eyes attempted focus.
She twisted her head slowly, until she felt the jolt of her vertebra as the gasses released and her muscles relaxed. Her hearing returned almost instantly following the snapping, and her vision became clear. Overhead speakers played the faint tone of a nameless Indy rock band she didn’t recognize.
She spied the unopened bottle of water standing on the table only a few inches in front of her and reached for it, suddenly aware of the dryness in her mouth and throat. She pressed the opening against her lips and slowly poured the liquid into her mouth as she studied her new surroundings. She remembered being in a dark alley, and finding Bryan’s body stuffed into a dumpster, then she woke up here.
The water bottle crinkled with loud snapping sounds as she sucked the last bit of liquid from its container. Replacing it back upon the table, she glanced up at the analog clock hanging behind the counter. It was seven thirty, but whether it was morning or evening was beyond her comprehension. She glanced out of the window and saw the sun shining brightly against a cloudy blanketed blue sky. The logos printed upon various items throughout the shop revealed she was sitting in one of a chain of coffee shops located throughout the city.
Thrusting her hands into her jacket pockets revealed that she had only a small wad of assorted dollar bills with some loose change, and a few of the pills. Her phone was still missing, and she had nothing else on her person. Standing up, she made her way toward the door, ignoring the employee shouting, “Have a great day!”
The cool air felt refreshing on her face as she stood on the sidewalk and took a deep breath. The smells from multiple restaurants assaulted her nose, as her brain attempted in vain to separate chicken from pizza and egg rolls.
Looking down at her shoes, she saw she was no longer covered in blood; however she did see multiple dirt stains scattered upon her faded blue jeans. She turned around and looked at her reflection in the coffee shop window. Her hair was a mess of curls and she looked as if she had just crawled out of a roadside ditch. Her face looked tired and pale as she turned toward the busy street and stood with a small crowd of people waiting at a crosswalk.
The usual questions of where she was and how she had gotten here were pushed far back in her mind as she thought about Bryan, lying dead and mutilated inside of that dumpster. Had that really happened? Or had she just imagined it?
Lori let out a defeated sigh as she crossed the street and began to walk toward a large sign reading Metro beneath a large brick structure. Every moment, it was becoming increasingly more difficult for her to distinguish the difference between her dreams and reality. She wandered through the steel gate and glanced up at the map of the metro routes.
She was in Silver Spring station; the knot in her stomach loosened as she read those words. She could take the red line directly to her stop and walk back to campus. There was no way of figuring out what day of the week it was without asking a total stranger. The thought was quashed as soon as it appeared in her mind. She barely spoke to anyone before this endless nightmare had started. There was no possible way she would be approaching anyone in the near future.
She had to be careful; there was no telling what might trigger another blackout or hallucination. She remembered the long dark hallway, with the old woman behind her. She remembered long, wet arms reaching out to grab her from the walls. She could see small figures almost like children moving about in the shadows, barely visible. She wasn’t sure how much of these memories were her own hallucinations and how many weren’t even memories at all, just her mind playing more tricks on her.
She reached into her pocket and counted out the amount required to travel to DuPont Circle and purchased her pass. She stared down at her shoes as she rode the escalator up to the platform where she joined the others awaiting the red line. It was a gorgeous day, with the exception of the slight chill that lingered in the air. She found an enclosed bench and sat down with her hands buried deep within her pockets; she was afraid to look at anything but the bricks beneath her feet.
Her mouth was still dry, and her headache threatened to return at any given moment. She didn’t want to close her eyes for fear of blacking out and waking up in another random location. She looked up, staring at the blue sky, wishing she had never started taking those stupid pills. She was losing her grip on everything. She couldn’t remember anything she had learned while attending classes, nor even if she had been attending her scheduled classes. What frightened her even more was the fact that no matter how much she struggled, she couldn’t remember even a single class in which she was currently enrolled.
A chill cut through her body, causing her to shake and twitch as she sat upon the cold metal bench. She wondered what day of the week it was, or even which month. The way her memory had been jumping about, everything was unpredictable. Days, and apparently even an entire month, had passed her by in the span of what seemed to be only a few seconds, as if her body were running on autopilot while her mind was playing tricks on her, showing her visions that made little to no sense.
Who was the old woman she kept envisioning? She had never seen anyone like her before taking those pills, not on TV, or even in passing as far as she could remember. Yet for some unexplainable reason she always appeared in her visions, smiling and laughing at her; almost as if she was the punch line to a joke she didn’t understand.
Lori’s thoughts were interrupted as the platform rumbled beneath her as the train approached. She arose from her seat and approached the edge, accompanied by the others who wished to board. A chill passed through her and she shivered as she awaited for the metal doors to slide open, allowing her entry into the steel structure filled with hard plastic seats.
She picked a seat near the window and rested her head against the cold hard surface as she watched numerous others flood the inside of the car. Her eyes scanned the unfamiliar faces, which took no notice of her presence among them as the train doors slid shut and the vehicle began to move.
Lori closed her eyes as the vibrations of the wheels pulling along the steel rails reverberated throughout her body. The motion soothed her, and exhaustion slowly overcame her, making her body feel weak and heavy.
As she traveled, she used her fingers to count the stops until it was her time to disembark the train. Her eyelids felt glued shut, and she could feel herself succumbing to the sleepiness she was experiencing in the warm car. Forcing her eyes open, she glanced at the signs mounted upon each stop, cross referencing it with the brightly colored map posted on the wall of the car. The assorted colors representing different routes stood out against the white background. She squinted to read the tiny labels next to each small circle, ensuring her intended path of travel didn’t somehow deviate from the rails.
Her throat once again felt dry, and she regretted not buying another bottle of water when she had the chance. The heavy feeling grew more intense as the train wobbled in the open air, and she blinked rapidly, hoping to ward off the sleepiness until she made it back to her dorm.
The thought of her dorm room created a feeling of unease in the pit of her stomach. The condition of the room was just as unreliable as her memory. It had been trashed at one point and spotless the next; there was also the gun she had found. She shook her head, hoping to break free of the heavy cloud as she shifted in the seat, convincing herself the gun and the money had been part of a dream.
The word dream had slowly lost its meaning in her mind, due to the current situation; she was having a difficult time determining what a dream was, and what reality actually was. As the train exited from an underground tunnel and into the open air once again, a flash in the corner of her eye caught her attention. The sky began to alter as the sun appeared to dim, as if someone had lowered a switch on the wall. A reddish pink tint distorted the sky and the cloud began to swirl as her head began to throb, accompanied by a ringing sensation within her ears.
No. Please not now, not again. She pleaded silently with herself as the lights within the train car began to flicker. Her pulse raced as the other passengers within the car seemed oblivious to the sudden changes occurring. The flickering lights flashed on and off, and she was plunged into total darkness, seeing everything in small flashes, as if the car were illuminated by a camera flash.
The vibrations and movement disappeared as the car became silent and empty. A small overhead light snapped on, causing her to flinch, as she raised one hand to protect her eyes from the brightness.
A small black and white cat sat on the floor in the middle of the car, light falling upon it as if someone were aiming a small spotlight upon the animal. The cat stared at her, with its green glowing eyes, then it casually left the illuminated area and vanished.
She heard a cackling laughter and turned her head toward the source of the noise. The old woman was sitting across from her, her feet dangling from the edge of the seat. Her black eyes were still a pool of cold emptiness as she laughed, almost mockingly at Lori. Fear and anxiety overcame her as she attempted to stand, wanting to rush over to the old woman and assault her. She wanted to know why she was laughing, who she was and why she was following her everywhere. Yet as she attempted to move, she found herself unable.
Two large, muscular arms appeared on both sides of her, wrapping her in a cold embrace. More arms, identical to the first pair, gripped her legs, and her body, hugging her against the seat. The thick muscles were covered in dry, gray skin and were as cold as blocks of ice against her body. She tried to scream, but a cold hand covered her mouth before she even had a chance to open it.
The old woman folded her hands in front of her, interlocking her thin, boney fingers. The dark eyes felt like an icepick stabbing through her chest, and the light faded, and the blackness began to overtake her. Unable to move or speak, Lori was forced to watch as the old woman stood slowly and made her way across the car.
She reached out and pointed her finger directly at Lori, and as her laughter stopped, a light began to shine from within her; almost as if someone had lit a small fire inside of her. As the wrinkled finger touched Lori’s forehead, the old woman erupted in a small, silent explosion, as smoldering ashes floated about where she once stood.
Lori tried to scream again and shook her body, struggling to break free of the arms holding her in place. She lunged forward, over and over again, praying the cold hands would lose their grip on her. She grunted and thrust with all of her might, unable to lean back and gain any momentum. She felt hopeless as her body grew weak and her muscles strained against the cold.
There was another flash of light, then blackness, and everything went dead silent as her heart stopped momentarily. Then she heard a blood curdling scream, followed by the sound of shattering glass.
When Lori opened her eyes, she found herself face down on the floor of the car. A few of the other passengers gave her confused and distasteful looks, before turning away to ignore her. Nobody seemed overly concerned that she had fallen out of her seat, which came as no surprise since the DC Metro was usually saturated with all sorts of strange personalities.
She slowly rose to her feet and reseated herself, brushing the dirt from her shirt and jacket. The train pulled to another station, and a green sign displayed Farragut North in white letters. She exhaled a sigh of relief, realizing that the next stop would be close enough to walk back to campus. Her heart was thumping wildly within her chest as she attempted to calm herself. She was losing it, yet she felt an odd comfort knowing that the vision of the old woman was nothing more than a hallucination.
With any luck, she would be able to maintain her grasp on reality and remain calm until the visions stopped completely. Was it the drugs that had started this? She played with one of the pills inside of her pocket. She was tempted to place it inside of her mouth, wanting to feel the calmness, the clarity she received as she swallowed its thick, bitter contents.
She resisted the urge as the train stopped at a platform labeled Dupont Circle and she stood to exit the car and make her way back to campus. As she stepped onto the ascending escalator, she once again toyed with the idea of taking another pill, hoping it would calm her nerves and bring her a little peace of mind.
No, Lori. That’s how you got into this mess in the first place. She stepped off the escalator and walked out into the open air, looking for a wastebasket. She spied a recycling bin and shuffled toward it, clutching the pills in her hand. As she passed, she dropped the remaining pills into the opening, intent on cleaning herself up.
She needed to remain clean long enough to stop the hallucinations and blackouts. Her life was turning into a downward spiral, and she sank deeper every minute. Smiling slightly, she turned away from the metro station entrance and began to make her way back toward campus, feeling the effects of fatigue on her body as she walked. The cold was less noticeable now, not like the sharp chill she had felt back on the platform earlier. The sun was bright, and the day was still gorgeous, which lifted her spirits and gave her a small feeling of hope. She made a mental checklist of what was necessary in order for her to get her life back on track.
First and foremost, she needed to figure out what day it was and find her cell phone. It was amazing how dependent she had become on such a small device. She wondered how she had managed to make it through life without one. She made her way down the street and to the campus grounds.
As she passed beneath the entrance, she made her way directly toward the area where the dorms were located, intent on obtaining a large bottle of water and writing out her schedule. She wondered how many classes she had missed, or had she attended and was simply unable to recall any events that had taken place?
She forced the thought from her mind and attempted to focus on making it to her room without any more incidents. She couldn’t afford another hallucination or worse yet, another blackout incident. As she approached her building, she stopped suddenly at the sight of campus security accompanied by two local police officers standing by the entrance. They were speaking with a young man she didn’t recognize, while he motioned over to where she was standing.
Her heart leapt into her throat as she froze in place, terrified of what might happen next.
One of the police officers nodded in her direction. “Miss, could may we have a word with you? It’ll only take a moment.”
Lori trembled as the officers approached her position. She tried to respond, yet her throat was stiff as stone and wouldn’t respond to her commands.
The four men walked past her briskly, and she turned to see them stop a girl who was standing behind her. Her muscles relaxed and she hurried into the dorm and up the stairs toward her room, eager to get out of sight as quickly as possible. She ducked her head down and made her way through the doors and into the stairwell, hurrying up to the third floor. She made her way to her room and twisted the knob, her heart sinking as she felt the resistance of an engaged lock.
Her throat was itchy and dry, and the thought of cool water appealed to her, as she made her way down the hallway and toward the drinking fountain. The disappointment continued to progress in a negative fashion as she saw the familiar sight of twisted pipes with a piece of paper taped to the mess. In black ink were the handwritten words Out of Order. The words pierced her like a knife as she pushed through the doors and made her way to the bathroom sink.
She fought the urge to crank the faucet on and shove her face under stream, remembering the vomiting episode she had experienced the last time she had drank too much too quickly. She placed her hands underneath the tepid stream, and noticed they were stained with dirt and what looked like dried blood. There were multiple openings in the dried skin, as if she had fallen forward onto the pavement.
She gently rubbed her hands together, removing as much of the residue as possible before cupping them and lifting the water slowly to her lips. As she swallowed, a flash of light erupted, followed by a flood of visions appearing in rapid succession.
She saw Nikki and Jeremy, laughing in the parking lot. She blinked her eyes and Jeremy was face down on the concrete, a pool of blood spreading out from underneath him. She looked away only to find Nikki on her back, scrambling backwards with a wet trail appearing as she scooted. Lori tried to speak, to scream, yet nothing happened, as if she were watching the events with someone else’s eyes.
Her arm moved up, pointing a gun at her terrified friend, steady and slow as if done with a practiced hand. Nikki began to scream, pleading for help, her voice echoing throughout the empty parking structure. Lori watched in horror, unable to stop the gun from firing in Nikki’s direction, as her eyes closed once more, and the scene changed and she watched as she began placing parts of the two bodies into a black garbage bag.
She tried to shut her eyes, yet nothing responded to her will, she was a prisoner, forced to watch the gruesome scenes. Why was she seeing this? Who had killed her friends?
The vision faded once again and she saw herself in the mirror of the restroom, her hands cupped underneath her chin as the water trickled down her arms. The light from the window had faded as she stood there in near darkness, unable to move. A set of bright yellow eyes appeared over her left shoulder, and she let out a terrified scream as a pair of thick, scaly arms wrapped around her and pulled her backwards into the darkness. Everything turned black as she felt herself falling, the arms dragging her down into the unknown and her screams fell silent in her throat as she felt the familiar chilling sensation once again overtake her body.
She awoke with a start, nearly falling out of her bed, the pounding on her door reverberating throughout the small single dorm. She was back in her bed, wearing sweat pants and a faded red T-shirt. She glanced at her clock, it read 7:43 AM. The knocking sound continued, and she croaked out in a sleepy voice that she was on her way.
She sat on the edge of her bed, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Had it all been a dream? She forced the thought from her mind once again as she shuffled over toward the door, cracking it open. As she peered outside she was greeted by the sight of an empty hallway. Poking her head out she looked down the left, then the right side, hoping to find the source of the knocking. The entire dorm was silent, almost as if it had been abandoned.
Closing her door, Lori made her way back to her bed. The wrinkled sheets looked warm and inviting as she sat on the edge and peered out her window. It was an overcast day, and there was a light wind blowing the bare branches of the trees around the campus.
The knocking sound came once again, and she stood u and made her way toward the door once again. As she approached, she realized the source of the knocking wasn’t coming from her door, but from the closet as if someone, or something was inside, attempting to get out.
Her throat tightened with fear, as she cautiously moved toward the closet. The pounding grew more and more intense as she approached. Swallowing the lump that had formed in her throat, she placed her hand on the doorknob and began to turn it slowly.
The door blasted open, and she was greeted with a scream, as a mangled body lunge at her. The face was torn completely off and it reached out at her with twisted limbs. A gurgling howl emanated from a gaping hole where the mouth should have been, and Lori stretched her arms out to push the thing away as she fell backwards.
The thing fell upon her and she turned her face away as it evaporated into smoke. She lowered her arms, her chest heaving with panicked breath, as she heard the tiny jingle of a bell. A black and white cat exited the closet and made its way past her and toward the window. She turned to follow as it made its way out the door, and she sprang up and chased it out into the hallway, only to be greeted by heavy traffic as multiple students shifted about busily.
Reaching out, she tapped a girl on the shoulder, hoping to find out where the cat had made off to. As the young girl spun around, she was greeted by a faceless body, as if someone had erased the woman’s face and placed a blank sheet of skin where it should have been.
Lori screamed as the rest of the students in the hallway all looked directly at her, the same blank image upon all of their faces. Another bell jingled and she forced her way down the crowded hallway and toward the stairwell.
Panic built up inside her as the lights dimmed and the hallway began to turn black. The sound of her bare feet slapping against the linoleum floor echoed as everything melted into an empty hallway.
She saw a lone figure hunched over as she ran toward it. The old woman. She screamed and swung her arms at the tiny vision, trying to keep her away. She shut her eyes tightly as she felt the cold wind filling the empty hallway. He head began to throb and a ringing grew in her ears.
“Help me, please! Anybody, please help me!” Lori screamed.
“Lori!” a familiar voice called to her. “Lori, it’s okay, just calm down.”
The ringing suddenly stopped, and she could taste the bitterness as she opened her eyes. The calmness overtook her, and as the blackness faded away she saw Bryan’s face come into focus.
“Lori, it’s okay, just hang in there.” He stared down at her, a worried and tired expression on his face.
“Bryan?” she shouted, “I thought you were dead!” The scaly arms wrapped around her as she slowly sank into the floor. “Bryan, please help me!” Her pleas fell upon deaf ears as she felt herself sinking deeper into the floor.
Suddenly another flash overtook her, and when it faded she found herself standing in an empty parking lot. She slowly turned in a 360-degree motion, unaware of where she had ended up this time. There was a lone car, sitting with the trunk unlatched only a few feet away from her. There was no noise, no wind, just her and the car in an empty parking lot.
She dropped to her knees and began to sob, covering her face with both hands. She was so afraid. Was it the drugs again? Were they causing her to hallucinate again? Maybe it was the side effects of her withdrawal. She had tossed what she was carrying into the recycling bin. Maybe she was dead, and this was the afterlife?
Her thoughts were cut short by a dull thumping sound, which slowly grew more intense as she wiped the tears from her eyes. She slowly arose, her legs shaky, and unstable, and made her way toward the trunk of the car. The thumping echoed in the empty space and seemed to attack her from all directions. She took a deep breath, looking down as she placed her hands underneath the lid and lifter it skyward.
She was greeted with the sight of Nikki and Jeremy, at least what was left of them. Their bodies were mangled and twisted, body parts intertwined as they lay in a pool of blood. Jeremy’s face had been ripped off, and a mess of broken bones and torn muscle lay twitching and spasming.
Nikki looked up, opening her mouth to reveal broken teeth and a mutilated tongue. “Why, Lori? Why did you kill us?”
Lori screamed and slammed the trunk lid down, falling backwards as she attempted to retreat. The car faded away into blackness as she heard a hideous laughter echoing within her head. The old woman once again appeared in front of her, laughing as Lori struggled to crawl away. From between the old woman’s, two yellow eyes approached as the black and white cat once again appeared. The tiny bell jingled as Lori screamed for help.
She turned away and scrambled to her feet only to fall face down onto the concrete. The severe impact tore the breath from her chest, causing her to choke as she turned onto her back and watched, helpless.
Two figures appeared on either side of the old woman, approaching her menacingly. A large figure with muscled scaly arms appeared on the right, faceless, and terrifying. On her left stood Bryan, who seemed oblivious as he called out to her. She tried to scream and lifted her arms in front of her as everything erupted in a flash and those huge arms wrapped themselves around her once again, pulling her into the ground. Bryan’s voice became a distant whisper and everything fell silent. Right before she blacked out, she once again heard the tiny bell, jingling as the cat appeared in front of her. Then everything vanished…
The girl sat alone, clutching a worn stuffed black and white cat as she continued to stare out the window of the common room. Her eyes glazed over as if she were still living within a dream, a prisoner in her own mind.
Michael followed Dr. Larity and the other residents into the room, flipping through the pages of his yellow legal pad until he saw one untainted by his scribblings.
Dr. Larity approached the young woman and began to speak of her condition. “This is Miss Lorine Edgemont; she’s twenty-three years old. She has been in a catatonic state for the past eleven months following a traumatic incident.”
Michael jotted down his short hand as the attending doctor spoke. The old man turned to the student standing closest to him. “Miss Brown, would you like to brief your fellow students as to the events leading to her condition?”
Cathleen Brown, a third-year resident began shuffling through her notes, standing less than an arm’s length away from the patient. “Lorine Edgemont suffered from moderate trauma to her cervical spine, as well as blunt force trauma to the occipital lobe of her brain as a result of an MVA. She was found in a state of shock, and suffered from a supratentoral coma with a Glasgow score of 7. Physically she made a full recovery, yet when not in her catatonic state she displays signs of panic and severe anxiety. At the present time, she is still unresponsive to verbal stimuli and only retracts to painful stimuli. No signs of oral comprehension, and she appears to have a state of depressed motor sensory function. Her catatonia is most likely a result of psychosomatic distress due to her firsthand experience of the traumatic events.”
Dr. Larity folded his arms in front of him. “Very good, Miss Brown. Now, seeing as how we have some first years accompanying us, could you please simplify the situation so as to not overwhelm your peers?”
Cathleen blushed as Michael stared down at the blank page of his legal pad, silently thanking the greater powers for the old man’s charity.
“Also, if you wouldn’t mind, could you please explain, in your own words, the previous history, not just the medical diagnosis? We are, after all dealing with people here. She is someone’s family member, not just a learning experiment for us to practice on.”
Cathleen took a deep breath. “Miss Edgemont was with her friend and boyfriend when they were involved in a motor vehicle accident. Miss Edgemont veered into the left lane and struck an oncoming car, resulting in a vehicle rollover. The driver of the oncoming vehicle was killed as well as the other two passengers accompanying her. She was found with damage to her cervical spine and head, yet her seatbelt had saved her from any serious or life-threatening injuries. One passenger was found on the side of the road, thrown from the vehicle, and the other was found dead in the backseat. Neither of the two fatalities was wearing seatbelts, and all three were screened with high levels of alcohol, as well as MDMA, which is the active chemical in the drug more commonly known on the streets as ecstasy. She has physically recovered, yet she hasn’t yet spoken, or acknowledged anyone who has spoken to her. She doesn’t show any signs of responsiveness to friends or family members who have attempted to communicate with her. There was slight damage to the occipital lobe of her brain, which controls the vision portion, which might explain why she doesn’t respond to visual stimuli, and may be a key factor or even the underlying source of her catatonia. When not catatonic, she screams, and displays violent behavior, as if she were in a state of panic, which is controlled by either oral sedatives such as PO clonazepam, or IV Diazepam.”
The old man smiled as Cathleen finished and motioned toward Lorine. “Now, we have been attempting to treat her for almost a year now, but there has been very little progress. One theory is the mixture of controlled substances accompanied by the traumatic brain injury has prevented her from making a full recovery. However she does go through the normal functional motions of life, such as eating, drinking, and even moves about without assistance.”
Michael looked up from his notes and stared at the young woman, a small pit of sadness developing in his chest as she sat there in her chair, staring blankly out the window.
“Remember this, no matter what scientific progress we make as a species, there is always phenomena which occur without any logical sense from a scientific standpoint. Be it the health and fitness enthusiast who expires from a simple strain of influenza, to the alcoholic cardiac patient who survives a crushing injury from a pickup truck. We cannot eliminate the human factor in medicine, because there are some illnesses and diseases that you just can’t find in a book.”
Michael nodded as the old man motioned for the small group to follow him away from the room and toward the next ward.
As he approached the exit, he stopped and looked back at Lorine Edgemont. It occurred to him that he could have easily been sitting in that chair in her place. College had been a time for experimentation, and he was guilty of driving home from a few parties under the influence of more than just a few beers.
His gaze moved toward the stuffed cat she held, her hands clutching it, unmoving. He began to wonder what she was seeing, what was happening inside of her head? Her eyes shifted ever so slightly, as the Red Cross volunteer began to water the plants that sat on the windowsill in the common room. The old woman had very few teeth, and she smiled as she joked with one of the attending nurses sitting with Miss Edgemont.
He was a large man, pale, and had a full sleeve of tattoos decorating his big muscular arms. As the old woman smiled, Lorine stood upright, dropping the stuffed animal behind her as she let out a vicious scream. The attending nurse moved behind her with a practiced ease and held her, preventing her from injuring herself or the old woman as she thrashed about violently.
A young man pushed by him, muttering, “Excuse me, sir.” He made his way toward Lorine with a small medication cup and a pitcher of water, walking briskly with a look of annoyance. “Bryan, hurry up, before we have to inject her please?”
The nurse, Bryan, stood in front of Lorine, speaking in a calming voice. “It’s okay, Lori, I’m right here, you’ll be just fine in a minute or two.”
At the sound of his voice, the young woman seemed to calm down, her thrashing stopped as he lifted the medication cup to her lips. She opened her mouth and swallowed the pills, sucking water through the straw. “Not too fast, you don’t want to throw up again now, do you?” Bryan said barely above a whisper.
The old woman laughed. “She does that every time I water the plants, I guess maybe she just hates me?”
The two nurses giggled as Miss Edgemont slowly sat back down and began to stare out the windows once more. The large man bent over and placed her stuffed cat back upon her lap, and her hands clutched it once again. As she returned to her catatonic state, a small trail of tears ran down the side of her face.
Michael sighed, then moved away as he turned to follow the rest of his class toward the cardiology ward to study the next patient of the day. As he opened the door, he was greeted with the sound of a tiny bell, jingling as he exited the common room…
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