Chapter 6 – Something a Little Sideways

It was the last patient of the day.

Dr. Kuin always saved the most severe cases for last… and the last on her colorful, leafy list was a young woman by the name of Brune. She was one extraordinary schizophrenic. What made her so unique was that she had been diagnosed since she was at least seven years old; a phenomenal dilemma that was strictly hushed up by her family’s pride outside of the asylum walls. Her parents had enough to worry about at the time raising six other sisters that had all blossomed into wonderful young ladies, but from the very beginning they simply couldn’t handle the little strange rosy maple moth who heard voices in her preschool class, and became angry and increasingly violent. She took too much money and energy to care for what was received in return, and so, at age eleven, she was dropped off at the institution, with no hope of release into society.

Brune took enough medication as a child to drop a horse (Clozapine, 600 milligrams a day, and Lithium, 700 milligrams a day, the sort of cocktail you would see as a last resort for an adult). In the past, her hallucinations could make her quite violent: she would bite and she would scratch until blood was drawn. Since then however, her episodes seemed to have lapsed into a more predictive routine. There had been no need of intervention as of the past year and a half, but a nurse of some sort was always nearby… as regression was always lingering like a predatory beast.

“Brune?” Dr. Kuin tapped lightly as she entered.

“Hello Navuta,” said the moth without looking around, staring into space directly in front of her. “My favorite show is on.”

“May I take a seat?”

“Don’t sit in the chair, that’s 24 Hours’s chair. You can sit on the bed.” Dr. Kuin sat nearby and eyed the young woman sideways. She had long, yellow blonde hair and straight-cut bangs shelfing over her forehead. Two, long feathered antennae framed each side of her round, flushing face. Her eyes were glassy, and peering into them was like peering into the heart of an exotic fruit, dappled and flecked with different shades of pink and magenta. All five and a half of her arms were dark pink, with small delicate hands that twisted her summer dress (which she persisted wearing even during the winter). Her wings were folded to her back over her dress like a cloak. Although they were more delicate than some other types of wings, hers were malleable, and shed soft, dandruff scales when she became excited… which luckily wasn’t as often anymore as it had been in past years.

“Are you happy Brune?”

“Mostly.”

“I see you have a busy schedule,” the psychiatrist mentioned, gesturing to the whiteboard in which Brune’s busy therapy schedule filled her days.

“I see you have a busy schedule,” replied the moth without looking, flipping up Dr. Kuin’s clipboard (making a few papers fly off). She turned and smiled a little, before turning back to her imaginary TV. In the brief, careful conversation that followed, the doctor received all the answers that she expected from the patient. ‘She was happy being alone, her friends kept her plenty of company, and that she couldn’t wait for the next flight to Uikiwiuiki Island.’ It was when the moth really began to have a distant look and withdraw into herself that Dr. Kuin knew it was about time for her to leave.

“Wait Navuta,” said Brune as the doctor sat up from the bed. “24 Hours just asked me something.”

“What’s that?”

“He asked why I wasn’t invited to the art therapy session.” Dr. Kuin paused, one brown ear perked slightly.

“I…” she began slowly. “How does 24 Hours know of the art therapy session?”

“He says he can hear the dripping going on next door.”

“The dripping?”

“Yes… yes the dripping!” Brune seemed exasperated “It’s been dripping from the ceiling for a few hours now. It’s really bothersome.”

“I’ll go tell them to keep it down,” promised the psychiatrist with a genuine nod.

It had become eerily quiet in the wing for some reason, although that was perfectly understandable since it was nearing evening.

Dr. Kuin considered that one could never be too sure whether or not there was ever a story behind Brune’s voices. Perhaps it was a naïve, miniscule glimmer of hope that Luisia still sheltered that the young woman would still be able to live more comfortably (if only she had the proper medication!). She jotted down her fantastic ideas, sandwiched in-between her lopsided notes that, if she was lucky enough, she would bump into again. As the art room door came into view, she searched through a small assortment of keys, and invited herself inside.

It was strikingly dark… which meant no one was there, and Dr. Kuin nodded, but before she went to leave, an sudden uneasy feeling gripped her. Her feet were frozen on the floor, and an instinct of “something isn’t quite right here” lingered on her shoulder. Shouldn’t the sky lights be shuttling more light into the room?

It felt as though the entire dark space was inhaling, sucking all the air from her chest. Her finger was hovering on the light switch to her left, and for a moment she questioned herself as to why she didn’t immediately flick it. She didn’t know herself to be afraid of the dark, although it was a perfectly natural feeling. She opened the door further and the light from outside fanned across the floor.

The sight that greeted her there made her quickly gulp back her lost breath. A bright shock of red was streaked across the floor in a large puddle. A slow dribble came from a mirroring red spot on the ceiling which had webbed its way across the windows, blocking out the light.
Drip. Drip. Drip.

Dr. Kuin watched the spectacle for a moment longer, too lost in wonder to question it, before she turned out the light and prepared to back out of the room.

What on earth did Dr. Chuvez and the two patients do in there that afternoon? She found herself clicking her pen absently again and again, lost in thought, completely forgetting what she had planned on doing next.

Jaciam lay torpid on her bed. For the last several hours she had been alternating between fits of terrible energy that caused her to pace manically all over her room and debilitating periods of utter exhaustion. She was beset by the latter in that moment, and she listened to the oppressive silence spill through the room and leak out through the walls.

An hour later—the hour had come and gone like a clicking second, or perhaps it had never really been a second at all—just a long brief moment, which when she tried to study, had already flitted away into the past. That precarious, nebulous position of the present—either it was the future or the past, because whenever you paused to examine it, it was no longer the moment and had become history, leaving way for a new, raw, unknowable moment.

She pulled out some paints and a fresh canvas, clicking on the incandescent light over her desk, which tainted everything orange and plunged her materials into sharp, harsh shadows. She had been seized by that reckless energy again, fierce and feral, as if she felt the urge to do something but had nothing with which to exorcise this urge.

She began painting, unsure of what she was actually producing. The colors were bright and vivid, giving life to what was not yet an actual object. After several minutes, she began to realize that she was drawing a pair of sawed-off wings. They were red… at first… (the wind whistling through the broken fibers, mussed and grimy, twitching helplessly over the rocks)… but then she was using green, an intense yellow-green, and she was not sure where the red had gone.

The moment shifted, like being pushed off of a bed and shoved horribly between a wall and a rock, and Jaciam was somewhere outside of herself, looking down at her body painting a picture. The painting itself somehow seemed clearer when she wasn’t looking at it from her eyes, which was a peculiar thing to notice, she thought.

Her breathing (the breathing that wasn’t hers) began to quicken, and Jaciam noticed that her body was not her own—not anymore. She no longer had black hair or charcoal zigzags that ran down her cheeks. She didn’t have a head at all. There was a cat’s head, situated plainly on her shoulders as if it had been there all along.

Her fear rapidly turned into terror and she tried to will herself physically back into her body. But she was paralyzed, and someone was moving her arms—those lumps of raw flesh, the impossibly small hands. The room was so hot, so hot, she wondered how anyone could work in there, even The Doppler, who was a master of all trades—her skeletal hands whizzed over the painting with huge, black strokes, spattering the desk with obsidian ink. There were two orbs with dots of turquoise over the poisonous green wings, and it had scrawled above them:

Sold are the eyes you have

And below them:

Cold is the wait for nothing

Suspended somewhere in the state between disintegrated, existential terror and formlessness, Jaciam watched quite helplessly as her body stood up and walked over to the mirror hanging on the wall (stupid stupid stupid I hate that mirror it is lying, lying all the time, I don’t have those eyes because they are full of strange words). Her cat eyes had turned black and malevolent, and on her mouth hung a smile so full of casual malice that it seemed irreverent, flippant. She had never seen her smile in that way; it was a horrible smile, meant for no human cause, with no moment of its own, like the smile of mocking carrion. The Doppler had visited her empty skull and appropriated it for her own inscrutable concerns.

Her body’s hands were covered with red paint (although she could not remember how it got there). The Doppler spoke, her voice full of metal and twisted laughter, the dragging, gravely sound of a dead body.

“Mrs. Katiyen, how lovely we look today. Our eyes are painted different every second.” She laughed, fragmented and broken, like glass shattering. (you are not me you stupid whore get out of my head BURN DOWN MY HOUSE MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN layerbylayerI’mpeelingaway)

“Our soul got a crack and let the devils in.” (NOXNOXNOXNOXNOXNOXNOXNOX), she screamed his name like it was her last lifeline, but not really expecting anything to come of it.

“Try not to think of all the worthless minutes. And if you do, we’lllll buuuuury yooooouuuuu,” And in that single sentence, her voice grew impossibly deep, it was a man’s voice, dark and raspy, almost inaudible inhuman. It repulsed her that those noises could come from a mouth that once had been hers.

For a single moment, everything released, as if an impossible, atrocious pressure had been squeezing her entire being into the size of a marble and then suddenly it released—expanding, stretching, content. There was a moment of utter silence in their head, of nothingness, of nonbeing and vanishing, suspended by the span of a second.

Then there was a terrible, shattering scream—someone was shrieking in the room with the sound of demons spilling in through the cracks, making raucous, violent laughter as they scraped against the glass, the screaming was so loud and urgent it was almost unbearable.

Jaciam/The Doppler (she was almost there, almost there) picked up her rickety wooden chair and slammed it against the mirror. There was the bursting sound of crushing glass. Her reflection broke into a thousand spiderwebbing pieces, the crunch at the center and thick lines zigzagged through the glass, breaking her up into what she really looked like (an eye here, a nostril there—disconnected, monstrous).

With her disconnected hands, she reached forward and began frenetically ripping the ribbed shards away from the frame and throwing them away. The scream had reached a frantic, deafening proportion, like that of a huge, wounded owl. Her door flew open but it was silent in contrast with her screeching.

“I’LL BURY YOU MRS. KATIYEN I’LL BURY YOU,” the words were barely audible, each syllable a strain to make out. “BLOODY PIECE OF PAPER. BLOODY WRITTEN THING.”

Two faceless figures dressed in stark white had already forced her to the ground, her mind contained inside a sheet of shallow glass, time moving in strange, silent dollops. Her eyes were closed but somehow she could see the bloodstained linoleum as her face pressed against the glass dust littered on the floor. There was a distant pinch, as if coming from the other end of a hallway, and then everything blossomed into fuzzy white.

In his bed in the infirmary Nox grimaced as he bid a silent farewell to what was once his safe hold; the padded room. Even without being there, he thought could feel something waiting was in that once safe hold, like a crouching beast just waiting for the door to be opened… another wave of nausea overtook him. His throat hurt and his ear drums throbbed (NOXNOXNOXNOXNOXNOX…) the aftermath echo of the voice still resonated in his skull.  He felt as though a part of his soul had been violated, scraped by an alien, and at first he pushed it away, reviled, massaging it away- small circular movements of his fingers on the temples of his searing head, as best as he could manage under the helmet that he now had to wear.  It was only a precaution the staff had taken to prevent him from ramming his metal horns through a wall.

I won’t let her win,” he muttered.

The world outside was velvety and soft. hues of purples and blues. The pine tree in the courtyard below was swaying slightly… blue spruce, the only kind of tree that seemed to grow near the asylum. It was the only thing in his line of view that was interesting; after his little withdrawal seizure he had been constrained to bed to prevent him from moving about. He could barely move.

“Did you just start glowing?”

“Hmm?” He turned, and caught sight of a silhouette in his doorway. Although some of the features were concealed from him, he recognized something friendly and familiar about the soft feline figure. The spectacles perched on her nose reflected a green glow, a glow that he realized was emanating from himself.

“Oh yeah, I guess so,” he mentioned, looking down at his fur. Before he came here, Nox used to glow like a neon sign when it became dark outside. Since he had been brought here, the fur had become listless. Tonight, for the first time in months, it seemed to be very faintly florid in the dim light, like the sputter from a lantern trying to survive on little fuel.

“Your friend is staying just down the hall from you.”

“… what friend?”

“Jaciam.”

“Oh. Are you going to give that to her?” he was nodding to the painting that the woman was carrying, The Ashes of the Late World, the botched version, which she had dutifully carried with her since she was given it by Dr. Phaedrus.

Dr. Kuin had debated about it for a while and had decided, if worse came to worse, she could say that an anonymous patient laid their hands upon it while she wasn’t looking and had painted it, but even then Dr. Kuin felt dirty and irresponsible. Lying wasn’t something that she liked to do, but much of her life was centered upon it. She reckoned that the practice had aged her greatly.

“I’m not sure.” she exposed uncomfortably. “I’m not sure if she’ll want it back, with it looking like this.”

“I think you should,” said Nox. He watched as the familiar woman trailed her gaze about the room, to his untouched food tray, before she turned and prepared to make her leave. He blurted out something, his boldness drawn by her familiarity.

“Can you do me a favor?” The lady paused. “Could you tell that wolf doctor? Whatever his name is… to watch out? I think someone has it in for him.”

“Wolf doctor? Do you mean Dr. Liok?”

“I don’t know. I was just told that it was a Wolf.”

“You can tell him yourself. Since he is now assigned to your case file, you will probably be seeing him a lot more of him in the coming days.”

—-

Dr. Kuin was walking slowly, breathing slowly, thinking deeply. She was unfathomably tired, and rather reluctant for her last minute assignment… visiting her true last patient (who also happened to be her first).

She paused outside of the entrance to the gryphon’s room, and glanced about the hall bashfully. Earlier that evening, Jaciam had an unexpected episode, and Dr. Kuin, like everyone else, wondered what had brought it on, for Jaciam was one of the better patients and the outburst seemed utterly random. Lusia couldn’t help but consider the art therapy session earlier that day, and her face flushed and she pushed the glasses further up her nose.

It might not even be wise to reveal the painting to her after such an experience.

/Well, you already have your hands messy. Lets stand for it honey. /

In fact, it was Nox’s words that had reinforced her decision as well…

She peered inside the room first, to see if the patient was asleep. If she was, she could come back at a better time (for she disliked the thought of leaving behind the painting like an unpleasant present when she awoke).

Jaciam had woken within an hour of the overenthusiastic injection of sedatives she had been given. Her hands had been bandaged in many layers, but her head hurt far more than the gashes on her fingers and palms. Her hands felt even stranger than usual, heavier and oversized, but this time the sensory distortion actually matched her visual input, because her bandaged hands truly were much bigger than normal. Her head was painful in a hollow way, and nausea hovered at the edge of her sullen awareness.

In an eerie mirror of the feline in the neighboring room, she had not touched the tray of food beside her and could not be swayed from staring listlessly out the window, watching the patients amble outside in the sunshine and fresh air. Two men were tossing a Frisbee back and forth under her window in the sharp oranges of the lowering sun—one of them was quite good and the other was much less talented. Their shadows looked like they were engaged in a long distance battle.

Sometime later, when Dr. Kuin peeked over the threshold of the room (carrying her guilt like a living thing, like a halo in reverse), Jaciam glanced towards her, blinked, and continued to look out the window. Her eyes were nothing like those of the active, engaged (if slightly withdrawn) artist that she had been only that morning, and now looked something like someone who hadn’t slept for years and simply couldn’t be bothered anymore.

They were calling it a psychotic break, attributing it to the long history of mental illness in her family, which Jaciam had freely disclosed upon entry to the hospital. They were calling it, if not a suicide attempt, an effort at serious self-injury, likely triggered by her upcoming discharge (which now would have to be pushed back another endless length of time). They were now wondering if some kind of schizophrenia should be diagnosed, and what looked like depersonalization disorder had merely been a long period of prodromal psychosis.

“I’m still alive, you can come in,” Jaciam mumbled listlessly, gazing with half-lidded eyes at the Frisbee players below. As the doctor approached, Jaciam’s eyes were drawn to the painting in her hands. She felt an eerie blank where there should have been some sense of curiosity, but she already known what had happened.

“Thanks for trying to return it. I don’t want it though. You can keep it or throw it away. She’s already got her sticky hands on it, and I don’t need another grim reminder of her company.” Her greyed eyes lingered for a moment on the crudely painted bonfire in the center of her artwork.

She stared out the window again, her awareness returning to the thing that was troubling her most.

Ever since she woke, Jaciam had not been able to see. She could make shapes, and even some distinction of shades, but they had turned horribly wrong. Everything had been rendered into sharp contrast—whites and blacks and greys that looked sickening, like the colors of a rotting corpse, or some oily spill that had forced her environment into different types of sticky paste. There were no adequate words for her vision, because there was no language that described the utter wrongness of what she saw. And each time she opened her eyes, she was reminded again in a violently visceral manner of the thing that her possessed hand had painted over her latest canvas: sold are the eyes you have and cold is the wait for nothing.

Jaciam wished she could feel anger at The Doppler but she just felt empty—too barren even for tears. The haunting presence was slowly chipping away at the rightful people in her memories, it had possessed her shell of a body, and now it had stolen her sight. Did the Doppler truly have so little that it had to take everything from what belonged to others?

Jaciam turned towards Dr. Kuin, feeling suddenly sad for her. The sadness was a wonderful relief, because it meant that she had something to feel sad with. There was unexpected lucidity in the gryphon’s deadened eyes. “You look tired, doctor. Don’t worry about the painting. I’m not upset. Well, not because of The Doppler’s additions, anyways.”

Jaciam leaned forward slightly, her bandaged hands shifting on the cotton sheet. She glanced side to side in a suspicious gesture, but she knew there was nothing she could do to prevent it from hearing. “Doctor, you should know that there is something terribly wrong with this place, and that nothing will ever be the same again. Be very, very careful.”

Dr. Kuin could feel her heart melting as she approached the bedridden woman, perhaps it was the way that the patient looked at her that commanded her to feel in such a way. She propped the strange painting on the leg of a chair that she pulled up by the side of the bed. Her muscles where goosey sore after carrying the burden in such a position for the last few hours.

Her ears flicked forward as Jaciam spoke to her, and she removed the glasses from her face, as if to peer at her better and not through smoke and mirrors. She placed them on the top of her bun, which was coming loose, where already a pen and a pencil had become lost in its tangled depths.

There seemed to be a glowing interest in her face, and she listened to Jaciam’s message of foreboding with a care that might have surprised any other doctor to have seen it. A deep wisdom seemed to seep up between the cracks of her fatigue, and she appeared to look older than she ever did… an elderly woman, whose strange, overflowing eccentricity was to be blamed on age itself.

“What happened dear?” she spoke quietly, as if not to disturb the air around them. “After the the art therapy session… can you tell me?” She could almost feel a tangible wall of cold brush by her face, and for a moment, her lungs felt parched for air like it did in the art therapy room. She remained passively understanding, accepting it, embracing it even. This overpowering benignness was a rather special element of her character which made Dr. Phaedrus hate her so much, and it seemed to work in other ways now…  as if something odious recoiled from her, a predator too baffled with its prey to expend its energy, turned its gaze elsewhere.

“And who is The Doppler?”

Jaciam’s beak curved into a humorless smile, wondering how on earth she could possibly explain what had happened in any coherent way. At the very least, her possession would be taken as some kind of schizophrenic delusion, and she would be forced to retreat further into herself, hiding her truths because the world was not ready for them.

Jaciam waved one of her bandaged hands in a hopeless way, as if gesturing to the vast expanse of disorganized information she would have to convey in order to be correctly understood. Still, there was something about the doctor’s mien that was unequivocally compelling, that asked for her experiences in a nonjudgmental way. “What do you want to know? The Doppler is a master of all trades. She’s… something that was there for a long time, but has never really done anything until now. Someone could call her a spirit or a ghost, but that wouldn’t be right. I think she lives in most people, but most people can’t recognize her or don’t know she’s there. Maybe you could call her… some kind of representation of…” In that moment, the sun changed position in the sky so that a haze of golden light surrounded Jaciam in a halo of orange-gold light, casting her face into backlit darkness. “…the evil that men do.”

She offered another helpless shrug. “I think she has some kind of special history with that guy in the art class yesterday… Nox? But maybe he’s just more aware of her than other people are.” She looked at Dr. Kuin with a flat, defensive stare, wordlessly telling her to dispute her dissociative delusions.

“I guess I just had a bad dream last night. It was more vivid than usual, and worse than usual. And then today…” she shrugged indifferently, pulling away from any affective connection she still had with the incident of being possessed. “I felt like The Doppler had taken over my body. She started painting awful things. And I just wanted to be in my body again. I guess I got a little carried away.”

She stared at Luisia, not daring to divulge yet the worst part of her episode; that somehow The Doppler had rendered her unable to see except in nauseating contours of black and white with vivid, scratchy grey shading. Even the doctor’s normally attractive face was so rich with those monochrome nightmares that she could not look at her without feeling a sense of wrongness.

“I’m not sure what this means.” Dr. Kuin said, referring to the newer painting with the crudely written words;  sold are the eyes you have, cold is the wait for nothing.

She seemed to become increasingly pensive as she let this image rest in her head, and Jaciam’s entire narrative, which struck her more profoundly than one could ever imagine.

“This morning, there was something else that I was going to tell you before I left in such a hurry, do you remember?” she paused, mulling it over softly what was unfolding in her mind before shaking her head very slowly, still deciding against speaking it outright. She opened her mouth to begin a new train of thought, but she paused again, looking utterly stuck on her conscience, which could not be spoken lightly. She unconsciously leaned forward and spoke in such velvety soft texture, the words seemed to drop right from her lips to the bed sheets as fragile as Jaciam’s sanity.

“Please listen to me close,” she said. “Realize that I may not be working here much longer for many reasons, the main is that this place brings back old haunts that I would rather forget. I wouldn’t even be talking to you now, if not for a little while ago, I felt that I must return for a very special reason, and that reason is why I had set up an art therapy session.” There was a vast story behind her soft eyes, which, just like Jaciam couldn’t dispel exactly what she had dreamt or felt, she couldn’t divulge, but she willed for the gryphon to understand just the same. Up until now there was no longer a doctor clinging to the bedside like some sort of songbird; there was something far more intimate.

“I’m assigning myself to you, but I am not going to be evaluating your psychosis, nor am I going to tamper with your medications to the proper cocktail. I would like you to tell me everything you can about The Doppler.” Her expression was quite serious. “No matter how rough things may become, and I cannot predict exactly how far that will be, I will try my very best to withstand it. Throughout that time, no matter what corruptness reaches through the tape, which I’m certain will, I would like you to trust me and I will help in every way I can, and, I’m not meaning just you… or Nox…” she stood up slowly, laying a finger to her lips as a discreet sign of secrecy before she turned.
Tak-tak-tak-tak – she was at the door again, before she bent to pull the high heels from her feet, quite tired of their constant stabbing into her arches. She sighed, turning to glance back at the woman. She seemed younger again for a moment, a young profile, but the wariness remained in her face.

“I regret that I cannot answer many questions today honey, for there is always someone more dangerous than Dr. Phaedrus listening to what I say… but I beg you to explore when it is safe, and learn what you can.  Wisdom, not intelligence, is the weapon that we’re all going to be using soon in the future.” And because she no longer wore the heels, she left silently, like a ghost, leaving Jaciam to fend alone in her thoughts.

Only Jaciam wasn’t really alone… really…

There came a low, soft moan and a muted thunk against the wall in the opposite room, and then what sounded like a muffled low voice came through.

… my head itches.

Jaciam studied Dr. Kuin assiduously as she spoke candidly to the artist, but she did not offer anything by means of reply or agreement. She was temporarily drawn out of her depressive stupor by the authenticity the doctor displayed—and even more, her promise not to investigate Jaciam’s psychopatholoy. The woman even seemed to believe her about The Doppler, but the evidence so far was so supernatural that Jaciam herself was only too aware of how insane she truly sounded. So why should Dr. Kuin believe her? The role of doctors was very clear—not to collude with patients, not to keep secrets with patients, and not to directly support their psychoses. In many ways, Dr. Kuin’s actions were so far from the norm that Jaciam wondered if she wasn’t dreaming the entire thing up.

Perhaps Dr. Kuin was already beginning to shun the constraints of the doctor-patient relationship, preparing for her inevitable departure from the hospital. And Jaciam was only the first witness to such changes. But could someone who had no experiences with The Doppler as of yet truly be an advocate for the patients plagued by its presence?

Jaciam was almost tempted to tell her about her faulty vision (the grainy black and white sizzling shades staring malevolently at her from everywhere she looked), but decided at the last minute to wait until their next visit. Perhaps she was still hoping that if she didn’t say anything about it out loud, it would mean that it didn’t have to be true yet. Her vision still had a chance to correct itself before it was validated by speech.

Everything was eerily quiet when Dr. Kuin left. The sun was beginning to sink low over the horizon, the oranges and pinks becoming more pronounced. Jaciam wished that she had her sketchbook, but she had forgotten to ask anyone to bring it to her. She listened to a steady drip-drop in the distance, irregular as a diseased heartbeat, being drawn into a stupor, until she heard a distant, familiar voice.

These walls are strangely thin, Jaciam thought with a flush of irritation, as if they didn’t have enough money to construct proper walls between the rooms.

“Wanna trade with mine?” she muttered out loud. “Mine’s haunted.”

… thunk.

The guest next door had propped himself up against the wall of which the pillow of his bed was next to. His head really did itch, for he wore a padded helmet, like a thick, white baseball helmet with the texture of a volleyball that smashed down his hair into his eyes and made his ears sweat. It had been adorned as a precaution, for in the distant past, the institution had discovered that, thanks to Nox’s steel skull and horns, he could bash right through walls as if they where made of cheap plaster (which was why he had been placed in the padded room to begin with). The straightjacket prevented him from removing the helmet; one hand was free just enough to reach for his food and drink (but it didn’t reach the buckles that kept him restrained to the bed, which he had managed to wriggle out of a few hours earlier). The entire outfit was physically uncomfortable, and he tried to relieve the annoyance by pressing the back of his noggin against the wall and trying to itch by wriggling his head minutely side to side.
“Haunted huh?” he contended aloud. He had found it odd at how clear he had heard that familiar voice, as if it wasn’t next door at all but right beside him, perhaps sitting on the same bed he was. However, this fact didn’t seem strange to him.

“Haunted rooms can give you bad dreams. I hope you don’t get any.”

There came another soft thump after this.

Jaciam nodded and then attempted (and failed) to scratch her head with her bandaged fingers, as if in sympathy with the itchiness of the mysterious other that spoke to her with such auditory clarity. Her hands felt more numb and distant than usual, given that the bandages protected her nerve endings from direct sensations. As a result of this failed attempt, her tangled hair fell stubbornly into her ruined eyes and would not stay behind her tufted ears no matter how hard she tried. The wisps tickled her face irritatingly.

“Bad dreams? You think so?” she echoed in a musing, faintly curious way, as if she were speaking from the long end of a tunnel even though she knew the other person wouldn’t really be able to hear her because he was so far away. It was impossible that he did. There was no way that she could make sense of it, so she did not try.

“Thanks for your well wishes though.” She was beginning to wonder why she was speaking out loud. Was she hallucinating? Her sense of craziness and unreality deepened, and she wished suddenly that she was under a heavy blanket. A blanket would keep her from dissolving into the air and floating away when the world finally realized that there were no boundaries between her and outside of her.

“Hey. You don’t sound like her, but I have to ask…” Jaciam muttered out loud, almost embarrassed to be comparing this Voice to her. There was a flash in her memory of two shears curved wickedly into a beak, noise and gritty smears rendering the monstrosity into black and white. “Are you The Doppler?”

“The Doppler?” he became quiet for a moment. He couldn’t remember where he had heard that name before, but it seemed so familiar that he knew exactly what it meant… “No, I’m not.” It almost stunned him silly that someone had brought it up, because up until now, he thought that he was really the only one who was really aware of it. Instead of questioning himself, he let it slide… deciding to allow himself to become indifferent.

“Are you… my sister?” he asked this question with the same discomfited feeling that had diffused to him through the wall. Such a familiar sensation, like bubbles of champagne simmering in the deep recesses of his gut felt that something like his sister when she was close, but at the same time it felt painful, like a bruise. It was as if something had been cut away and replaced with a new body part, and that bubbly feeling didn’t help the tenderness of the handiwork. A memory crawled into his mind when his mother had brought home a puppy for him and Kate. It wasn’t so thrilling for Nox because just the day before, their older puppy had been involved in some sort of macabre accident and it was their mom’s way of amending the problem, by adopting a new one. but Nox couldn’t help but feel alienated by this new and strange animal that slept on his bed and ate out of their old kibble bowl.

“Sorry,” she burst impulsively, already embarrassed that she had asked, even though her neighbor hadn’t seemed upset by her question. “I… had to ask. You didn’t sound like her, but you never know what kind of tricks she’s playing next.” For some reason, it seemed very important that he understand that she didn’t mean any offense. She didn’t want him to go away, and she was relieved when she heard the voice ask another question.

She was surprised by his inquiry however, and she wished she could say that she was unsure why he had chosen that query. However, on some level, she knew precisely why he had asked, because she was wondering the same thing. She shared the same amputated feeling, the alien sensation of having a corpse’s arm sewn arbitrarily onto her shoulder. She had no control over the thing and she was unsure who the mad surgeon was who had done it, but it was there nonetheless, a dead weight.

There was a frantic whispering noise somewhere from the corner of the room, like a cloak dragging over the tips of dead leaves, and Jaciam’s ears swiveled towards the noise.

“I don’t…” she began, and was suddenly overwhelmed by nausea as she tried to remember. The memories were false and bizarre; she was an immune system that had rejected an implant and was attacking the body in an attempt to chase the intruder out. She had the sudden image of a horrifying chimera; a cat-demon with horns and red feathers and the grin of a dead man.

“I think… maybe I am…” she finally relented, turning her attention away from the gaping hole in her mind. She knew something was terribly wrong, but it made her too ill to question it. “I’m Jaciam. You’re Nox, right?”

“Yes, that is me.”

His mind went back to the dream that he had earlier; stills and unpleasant sensations came back to him as if he were pulling Polaroid’s out of a stop bath in a darkroom. He peered at these unusual photographs with innate curiosity.  They where black and white and strangely distorted, and he realized that they were not from his memory alone. The fuzzy glimpse of a beast that he saw in one of them did not look anything like he remembered it, like the blurry silhouette of a woman with the shape of a cats skull far too large for her neck. Even though he had never seen it before, he knew what it meant. He was afraid.

More photographs, what looked like a male gryphon, and more distorted black and white photos; a vision of some bandaged hands. He was beginning to feel like he was trespassing in a private place, and he found his body blooming with luke warm with embarrassment suspecting that the darkroom was egging him on to leaf through the memories that weren’t his.

… or was he just dozing off? He jostled himself and the darkness receded, his room became clear around him again. He felt heavy in his bed and helplessly drowsy even though he didn’t wish to sleep.

“I had a dream that we were married Jaciam.” He said, hoping that talking would keep him from drifting into daydream. “Well, maybe married is the wrong word, but, though it wasn’t funny then, its kinda funny now. I think you where in a graduation gown…”

It wasn’t really amusing, but Nox had to give it to the master of all trades that she had a sense of humor, no matter how wildly sadistic it seemed. He wondered at the strange personality of the cacodemon that conducted the symphony of discord. Over a lifetime of nightmares such as these, he had learned to look at all that had happened to him in an abstracted way, for there was sometimes an intention obscured within her madness.
But for all of his life, trying to discern that personality proved to be fruitless, and he’d wound up here because of it.

“You know what sis, I think that I might have dragged you into something. I’m really, and truly sorry; I didn’t mean for you to become involved. I really should be getting more drugs, but the doctors… the poor things don’t know what’s going on with me… no one should have to deal with this- thing. The woman with the cat skull, that is something we now have to share.”

Jaciam felt herself drawn into a stupor, but it wasn’t like any sense of tiredness she had ever felt before. It was as if some external magnet were drawing her towards a soporific spiral of someone else’s sleepiness, hooking her behind the navel and drawing her helplessly inward. Her pupils expanded dozily and her lids fluttered halfway shut. She was not sure when the sun had gone down, but it suddenly occurred to her that the sunset was hours ago, and the moon now hung placidly in the blackened sky. Everything was cast in a thin silver haze, awash with watery light from the nearly full moon.

When the voice came again, Jaciam shifted in surprise. She thought that her brother had fallen asleep or gone away. She gave a weary sort of chuckle in response. “Yes… I had been dressed in the wrong clothes entirely. I showed up to the wrong party, or something. Obscure graduation day, bells rang out the day of your worst fear…” It suddenly seemed so absurd that she had been judged almost totally sane only yesterday, prepared for discharge within a week or so. She hadn’t realized how far she had to fall until she took the plunge. Did it look the same to him, watching his life pass him by before he hit the bottom?

She guessed that meant that they were having the same dream. Did combined dreams often happen to siblings? She thought she had read somewhere about that happening with twins… she remembered thinking how bizarre and intrusive it would be, but in some indescribable way a relief… as if even just one other person seeing what she saw and feeling what she felt would make her feel not so alienated and crazy anymore.

“Do you think so?” Jaciam suddenly asked in surprise. “You think that this is you? My sight, my haunted brain?” She grew silent in reflection and wonder. She had always thought that The Doppler was something that had gotten its eldritch fingers into her mind by itself. Even when she was younger, she dreamed of that emaciated woman with the cat’s skull with its grinning madness and massive incisors. She had called it The Doppler after the Doppler Effect, that weird auditory consequence of hearing the same sound differently from alternate positions. She always thought that if anyone else had been standing from her position, they could see The Doppler too, but no one else was ever able to.

“Do you and The Doppler have… a history?” Jaciam asked curiously, feeling markedly strange, as if she had just asked someone else if they were a figment of her imagination.

“I don’t know if what you say is the same thing,” said Nox thoughtfully. “I knew Loki from since I was a kitten.” Lokivu. He hadn’t said the name aloud in a long time; to him it was so blown out of proportion from his own imagination, he couldn’t be sure if he’d made it up or not.

“When I was still little, she started showing up in my dreams. She was harmless at first- like a shadow at the edge of my mind- but then she began to whisper- trying to twist me, trying to plant perverse thoughts in my head. She drew on my compassion to temper it into something else. I learned to stop feeling, and distanced myself from the other emotions that led to her teachings.

I thought that if I ran far enough away from my home, that she would find someone else to haunt. Sometimes it would work; she’d lose me for a bit when I moved, but she would always return. It became a cycle. She would become distracted in the last place that I had moved from, but she’d eventually catch up with me. I wasted a lot my life this way- just trying to distract her.”

He became silent for a moment.

“I still don’t know why she doesn’t move on. I don’t know what she wants. I hate her. I thought I could handle…” his voice cracked and he fell silent. There was a throbbing pain behind his eyes, and faint lines of lime could be seen glowing intensely in that pitiless field of black. They where mechanical optics, so no tears would ever roll down his face to quench his emotional burns, they could only thrum and hurt like an octopus squeezing the back of his eyeball.

After a moment he resumed in his dry voice. It seemed all quite natural to speak this fluently to Jaciam, he felt neither embarrassed or ashamed… in fact, talking seemed to be the only lifeline that he had left.

“I think you have a slightly different version of Loki in your head; what you call the Doppler. Everyone has a different fear, perhaps everyone has a different sort of haunt- a different look. Like a many faceted jewel, and depending on what angle you view it from, the jewel gives a different shine. ” A month or so ago, Nox wouldn’t have considered this notion because up until now, he thought he was the only one who could see Lokivu. “Maybe, we’re just more sensitive and we can see ours better.”

Nox couldn’t help but think that there was a larger picture behind the charade that he just wasn’t seeing, but that was a step too far into the abyss that he wasn’t willing to take. One could only go so far in trying to define the inscrutable… to add rhyme and reason to something that had none. He had an impression in his head that was similar to a puppetmaster pulling on the strings of his little dolls. Each doll looked different, but behind each one there was the same person and the same intent. He had a hunch that this might be how it was with Jaciam’s Doppler and his Lokivu, but he couldn’t put it into words.

Jaciam listened in silent fortitude, wondering about this strange entity he called Loki and she called The Doppler. Were they the same creature at all? For a moment, she felt some kind of ineffable sadness coming from behind the wall; feelings that could not be put into words and thus lacked a name. She wondered if this was her own sadness or if it was his and she could feel it through this twinship link they had. A tear seeped involuntarily from one of her ruined eyes, slicking down her features, and she couldn’t help thinking that the tear was for him because he could not do it himself.

“Did you ever ask her? Ask her why she had chosen you, I mean?” she became quiet, contemplative, and almost as an after thought, she murmured out loud, “I wonder if she has anywhere to go home to…” the words were distant, as if spoke through the other end of a dream.

“Is Loki more real than everyone else’s haunt though? I mean… The Doppler seemed real to me, but it has changed so much in the last day, as if it has warped into something else entirely. Who is Loki, that she can infiltrate other people’s demons and make them her own?” She wondered spontaneously if there were any cameras embedded in the walls, witnessing her talk fluently to the window with the milky silver light and the bone-like shadows cast by the bars over the plexiglass.

She lifted her hands as if to rub her face in agitation, but her hands had already fallen away from her, too large and unwieldy to do anything with. She felt a growing sense of floating unreality, buffeting somewhere in the space between the window and the bed. She wondered if she could move into someone else’s body entirely. Maybe this was never her body to begin with.

“Did you ever think maybe that Loki was just a part of yourself?” she asked quietly. Even if Loki was a part of himself, Jaciam was not sure that it mattered.

“I’ve given up trying to understand her.” He felt as though he was drifting right out of his body, like one of those old cartoons where an angel floated out of a dying cat, the spirit clinging, unwilling to be torn away from its body. He wasn’t sure where this unreal dissociation was coming from, certainly not from himself, and he fought to keep himself anchored. He remembered that his head itched and he bonked it on the wall again, throwing himself before his own eyes (screwed shut) and breathing deeply. Jaciam had asked another quiet question.

“I can’t… I mean… she can’t be.” he began, first doubtfully, and then forcefully “If I believed that she was a part of me, I think I’d go insane.” Nox had begun to realize that he was a very proud person, which came as an embarrassing shock. The pride came from his ability of self-control, his sense of conscience, his ability to control his temper, but that was all in a past life. If he turned out to be a skitso, for real, it would be game over.

The philosophy he had constructed went like this: the world around him was chaos and inside of him was chaos, but at least he could show that he was calm medium at least in his body, and that he could put order to the nature of insanity. People were afraid of his calmness; it gave him the respect that violence couldn’t buy. It symbolized his intelligence, and although at the time, he would have claimed that he was the least cavalier being on earth, and therefore couldn’t be bothered by anything, it was the exact opposite. He was so proud, he couldn’t let others anywhere near him. Although he blamed that upon Loki, he knew now that he was simply paranoid of becoming the common dogged man of society, and that put a target on his head.

Nox’s father figure was insane, and so was his mother. Maternal ties aside, Nox despised them, and his becoming insane would only confirm that he was exactly like them. He was NOT. HE would decide his own fate, he was sure of it.

“If she’s a part of me, it means that I’m a murderer.” he said, not bothering to disguise the contempt in his voice “I can’t accept that.” He wished he could say something that could defend himself further. “Look, Jaciam, if I don’t get those drugs, the stuff I had before I had the seizure, I think Loki might start manifesting outside of our minds, and she’ll tear this place apart. Either… either I’ve got to get those drugs or I have to get out of here.” He bit his lip. Running again, it seemed to always be the best choice, at least there was a chance to escape.

Then his heart sank…

The genius of the ghost’s plan seemed to grin at him from the edge of his bed. She was in Jaciam’s mind now too, and now she could haunt her any time that she wished. He couldn’t run away and she knew it! He couldn’t leave his own sister to battle with an enemy that would never relent until she was stripped of all her barriers.

He muttered something and closed his eyes, tired and hopelessly unhappy, craning his neck over his shoulder as if Jaciam’s soul might be floating beside him.

When Jaciam closed her eyes, studying the sickening grey on the insides of her eyelids, she thought she could see him, hunched against his pillow, upright in his bed and as stubborn as a child, hunched over in what looked like linen wrappings. It took her a second to identify this as a straightjacket. But surely she was imagining that splintered image, for there was no physical way that she could actually be seeing him. Her memory played funny tricks on her sometimes. She opened her eyes again, blinking, and although it took a moment for the edges of his outline to dissipate from where she had seen it, she never lost the feeling that he was sitting right next to her.

“I don’t think you sound like a killer,” she stated reasonably, rubbing at her cere with her disembodied hands. Her hands felt strangely warm, suffocated under all the wrappings, and Jaciam tried to find the end of the bandage to unravel it. After a moment, she gave up, unable to find such a small edge with her hugely swollen digits. “And even if I couldn’t be sure of that, I don’t think it’s likely that a part of you would be haunting other peoples’ brains. I think it makes… more sense to think of her as a separate thing. If only she could give you a coherent answer when she asked you a question… then we could ask her what she wanted from us.”

Jaciam closed her eyes again, feeling suddenly exhausted. Nox’s voice sounded terribly unhappy, and she wished that she could cheer him up. In that moment, she felt strangely calm, almost tranquil. She imagined giving some of that quiet peace to that poisonous green figure in the straightjacket, envisioning it as a cerulean blue force that passed through the wall. If he runs away… what would happen to him? He would just be protecting the people that are in the hospital… he would still be stuck with Loki twisting his world upside down. She grimaced. “That doctor… Dr. Kuin… she asked me today to tell her everything I could about The Doppler. Maybe she could help with your medications if she knew what was going on?”

“Dr. Kuin… is that what she goes by?” he asked dozily. A great swell of tranquility had suddenly enveloped him like a warm plush suffusing from the wall. Such a serene force made him sleepier, although this time he found himself willingly drifting within the protective bubble like an impenetrable aquarium, his eyes closed. In this state, he was sure that his head was being suffocated by the oppressive helmet, but at the same time he felt as though his hands where swollen, bandaged and sweaty as well. He was too tired to check and see which part of him it really was. Did it really matter?

“You’re just full of ideas sis,” he stated blankly… choking off what might have been a monotonous tangent theorizing that it was only because her fresh perspective hadn’t yet been torn to shreds by nightmares.

Perhaps he was just too stubborn to think of anything else or too exhausted. He really should be more grateful that someone else was there, who was able to reach out and touch his very thoughts and provide him comfort, but at the same time this unnerved him and couldn’t help but wonder if it was weakening.

“Dr. Kuin… is… a fraud doctor,” he murmured very softly between his gentle breathing. “I think. But I also believe she knows what is going on… I suspect that she knows how I got this way… and I suspect that because… because I imagine that she is related to me… to us, I guess, but mostly me.” He fell silent in muse but his mind soon distilled. Musing too hard about others simply got him into trouble, or at least that was what he had learned. He couldn’t be sure if he could explain himself to Jaciam anyway, so much drifted in and out of his memory, most of it left behind at the bottom of the slate grey sea, whatever was salvaged, twisted by Loki until he eventually stopped thinking of it simply to prevent it from being broken.

Eventually his mind voided enough where he was no longer conscious, although not yet dreaming. It would not be until a while later until his eyes would open to the looking glass world…

… at first it felt exactly the same as his bed, but he was no longer restrained, and it was unnaturally dark beyond his closed lids. When he shifted, the rusty springs of his bed creaked and in turn it echoed down unlit rusted labyrinths, where there was no other sound but the deep hollow hum of a haunted building. Nox, upon realizing that soon he would have to move, decided not to, instead letting out an unspoken moan of his displeasure.

“What?” Jaciam uttered uneasily, her eyes fixed on the wall like a hawk that had spotted an impossible shift in the haze of the atmosphere. “What do you mean she’s a fraud doctor? She isn’t who she says she is?” The pinching discomfort of this pronouncement evolved into the beginnings of mistrust, a yawning black hole where the possibilities of betrayal winked with a blasphemous smile and scissoring teeth. “What do you mean when you say that?” Jaciam felt cold and hot all at once. She had begun to trust the doctor; she seemed somehow competent where no one else could have possibly understood. “Is she a family member or something?”

Jaciam’s uneasiness became washed over in the thin orange haze that was their collective exhaustion, her mind buckling in wildly accelerating drowsiness. She had not heard a response from Nox, and she wondered if he had finally fallen asleep. It was sometime very late at night, or perhaps very early in the morning. In those last few minutes of consciousness, her mind itching frenetically with fatigue and unable to stop yawning, she wondered how it was possible for them to hear each other so clearly. She was struck suddenly by the image of her in a graduation robe, the devil tying her into a marriage with a schizophrenic.

She slipped into something a little sideways, a clock hanging loose upon the wall…

Jaciam shuddered and glanced down, realizing suddenly that her hands were normal-sized. The bandages had been removed, although the lacerations along her fingers and palms were deep and dark, like black abysses carved into her flesh. She did not see in color, but the grey monotones had changed in quality; so grainy that the pixels jumped like quivering insects across a screen. She opened her beak to whisper someone’s name but it wouldn’t come out. She couldn’t say anything at all.

A moan filtered through the wall, and at first Jaciam thought that the moon was growling at her. She pushed the blankets away and opened her door, which had already been left open a crack. No one was in the building but her and the moan. The walls bled strips of paint, screaming their desuetude. Everyone else had left the institution years ago, and somehow she had been forgotten.

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~ by komicks on February 27, 2011.

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