Chapter 8 – Red Water

The hallway of the unstable patients was flooded with water.

It had happened sometime during the night after all the last duties had been taken care of. It had started raining long and hard throughout the night. There were no winds and no lightning or thunder, just straight, jetting raindrops the size of bullets.

The wetspot where the rain had started to sink in through the building had started in the artroom where just earlier in the day, Oba had conducted an art therapy session. It had spread all the way down the hallway to the unstable part of the wing, coating the floor and some of the walls with a rusty, wet film. There was a sulfuric smell in the air, and someone had suggested that there had been a break in one of the pipes as well (which might have something to do with the reddish color of the water).

Dr. Phaedrus was unimpressed. This could complicate his plans for installing a new security system by the week’s end, and if he didn’t have the water problem fixed soon, he would have to call off the new installment for the next month or so.

Secondly, some of the patients in the unstable ward would have to be moved to completely new locations.

Case in point was Brune.

She was the closest to the leaky therapy room, so she had the most waterlogged situation. Nonetheless, she seemed unperturbed about it; the nurse had found her sitting in on the floor of her room, smearing the red water all over the white walls.

“Shut the door you’ll let all out of the Whiquers!” she accused the nurse shrilly when she noticed her standing in the doorway.

Brune had it all figured out. She knew exactly what had started the leak in the art room, which was right next door to hers. It was a person, and he had visited her in the middle of last night.

The Cat Man.

She had never seen an entity like the Cat Man before. He somehow seemed different from all the other friends she’d made over the years. In fact, all of her friends didn’t like him; they were maybe afraid of him. It was very strange to see them acting like that and she poked fun of them later for it.

When the moth had awakened with a start in the middle of the night, it had been raining down hard above her head. At the foot of her bed there was a towering figure, as black as a shadow in the darkest corner of a cellar. When she saw him she could barely make out what he was at first, for his outline blurred in and down in the pixelated darkness, wavering from side to side. He had small ears and no features anywhere, but on his face he had a pair of glowing white eyes, like thin rips in a black cloth and someone was shining a light from inside.

“I don’t like him.” remarked 24 Hours, who had plunged under the covers with Brune. “Can’t you make him go away? You must have invited him over without knowing. Or maybe he’s lost. Tell him that he’s got the wrong number.”

“What’s your name?” Brune blurted out, peering over the edge of her blanket and curling her toes. She didn’t like him much either; he gave off a harsh vibrating sound. This was a hum so low in pitch that it would escape most ears, but Brune’s antennae picked it up like a sonar. When the Cat Man looked at her, the vibrating energy seemed to shake the room, and there was a crackling too, like a million rice krispies.

He had never answered her question; he had turned and sunk through her door outside.

“So he did have the wrong number.” Brune sighed, settling back down into her pillow. Her beloved friends came out of hiding and began to crowd around her like she was Snow White. One of her favorites, the Whiquers, which looked like a cross between sperm, mice and tadpoles, tickled her nose and danced under her bangs, delighted that she was awake so that they could torment her some more.

“He’s someone else’s problem now,” snorted 24 Hours, who now cuddled next to Brune’s breast like a fluttering heart, safe and warm. “You shouldn’t have asked him his name though; that’s not what I asked you to do.”

“I know. But what should we call him?”

“Well, he’s a cat… and he looks like a man. I say we call him the Cat Man.”

Satisfied with the answer, she once again settled into a restless sleep.

When she awoke again hours later, all around her was red and shiny. She felt as marooned as a pirate on an island in the middle of the red sea. Halifax, a small, hovering spinning top with wings, was screaming at the sight of it

(Killdeer! Killdeer! My god, it’s just like a cardinal, look it! It’s all bloody, Killdeer!)… but then 24 Hours started explaining things to everyone.

“It was the Cat Man.” he assured hurriedly and in an angry tone. “He did this. Remember earlier? We all heard the dripping next door too. He must have started the dripping… and now just look at everything; it’s ruined my chair!”

When the nurse came by to get Brune that morning, the moth made sure that all of her things were taken care of properly, all set in order, each object oriented in the special way that all of her friends preferred. Her feet made little squashing sounds as she paced about her room, triple checking everything… unaware that it would all be moved as soon as the cleaners came to take care of the mess.

“And make sure no one takes it while I’m gone,” she instructed the nurse in a careful tone as they left. However, as they left, she felt her heart become a little lighter, as if a weight had been lifted from her ribcage. It felt “good” to leave that room behind, which surprised her and everyone else.

“Maybe it’s because… the room is no longer ours…” whispered someone in her ear.

“That’s right.” Brune whispered back. “It’s haunted now I think. I don’t want to sleep in a haunted room.”

—-

“You sure know how to pick your sick days don’t you?” said Hobbs, as nurses, therapists, patients, doctors and maintenance works flew around the halls like panicking butterflies. He held his desk phone to one of his long ears, an altogether bored expression drooping off his thinning face.

“Well, sure of course. I can’t protect you from what hell Dr. Phaedrus will give you when you come back.” There was a woman’s excitable clucking from the other end of the line, the rabbit receptionist scratched a few uninteresting notes on some papers, ignoring the chaotic atmosphere as he was sucked into the monotonous woes of his job.

“Sure.
“Fine.
“I said fine…
“Look Dr. Kuin, I honestly don’t care if you’re in the Bahamas or have a dying aunt.
“Yes I can forward you to his desk.
“You’re welcome… ”

He pressed the directory button that would forward Dr. Kuin’s phone call to Dr. Liok’s desk before hanging up.

“Dr. Phaedrus is going to have a fit.” He almost smirked at this thought before adjusting his heavy glasses and takking quietly on his desktop, setting up plumbing appointments and an immediate visit from a roofing company. It was hard to set up such appointments on such sort notice, especially with the weather as dodgy as it was. (It was supposed to thunderstorm later that afternoon, maybe all of next week). At least for now, only a heavy fog misted the windows and fossilized all of the raindrops that had fallen the night before. Still, quiet and brooding.

The phone at Dr. Liok’s desk rang methodically.

Jaciam blinked several times, as if trying to clean a sheath of oil from her eyes, and then began picking at the bandage wrappings around her hands. It was not a halfhearted attempt. It was a deliberate, forceful action, as if it was something she had meant to do all along, like a caterpillar emerging from a chrysalis.

When the wrappings were curled in pathetic coils on her bed, like skin shed from some unholy creature, Jaciam studied her scarred hands. Her fingers had been the most severely affected, although most of the skin around the cuts had already knitted together. Red lines crisscrossed darkly across her skin, and because it had been the edges of mirror that had been the offending weapon, they were all deep.

Jaciam couldn’t remember quite how she had gotten them. She remembered becoming very angry and losing consciousness, and she supposed she had done something that necessitated a move to a room that was more heavily guarded. She had no memory of why exactly she had lost control in such a violent way. That kind of rage was contradictory to her basic nature: sensitive and shy and somewhat cut off from basic emotions.

After flexing her phalanges for a few seconds, Jaciam pulled back the covers and walked to the door, peering out of the checkered glass in curiosity. The glass was a glittering puddle of greying oil. Something was going on in the hallway outside her room. She pulled open the door and leaned her head out.

A milieu worker near her door glanced towards her. She was a young, anthropomorphic bear with white fur and kind, blue eyes. “Is it an emergency?” the worker asked the gryphon nervously.

“No…” Jaciam admitted. “Um… I guess I was just wondering when I would be able to have my paints and my canvas back. I would really like to have something to do.”

The staff replied back after a moment’s hesitation, “Just wait for us to have more staffing down here and I can run and get that for you.”

Jaciam nodded and smiled in thanks, but the smile felt weird and stretched on her face, an awkward skin that she wore but wasn’t hers. Someone who looked vaguely familiar was walking down the corridor behind a nurse dressed in white cotton. Jaciam thought that she might have seen her in a dream. A flash of yellowed, burnt paper, the year 1952. Where had she seen that moth girl before?

“Hello…” Jaciam blurted to the passing girl, her head tilted in a decidedly avian fashion.

– – –

Nicodemus Liok had not slept well the previous night. All evening, he attempted to review some of his old medical textbooks and consolidate them with the newer research on medication and schizophrenia. Even after his wife had gone to sleep, he worked late into the night. Despite the banality of his research, his thoughts were punctuated with a strange, floating anxiety, and he found himself constantly glancing upwards from his books to search around the room, as if he expected to find someone standing there. He could not explain it, but he could not help feeling as if someone were watching him all night.

When he finally decided that his unease was not worth the information from his notes, Dr. Liok closed his book and went to sleep.

His dreams were troubled and restless. He dreamed of a snake that had eaten its own tail, slithering sinuously through his dream with an odd, lopsided grin that he ever wished to see on anything living or dead. He dreamed of a figure all dressed in black, triangles for ears on its head with eyes white as the heavens burnished into its face. He dreamed of a horse’s skull, eyes wide as half-pomegranates and bone as slick as a white knife. The skull whispered things to him and laughed, billowing hot, sour breath in his face. The scales of madness just before you die.

Considering his unfortunate evening, Dr. Liok was feeling mentally and physically disheveled the next morning, although his suit was pressed and he looked as hygienically pristine as he always did. His eyes spoke of his exhaustion, however, and there were heavy lines in his face that had not been there the day before.

That morning, after faxing information about a patient to another hospital, the wolf returned to his office to find the phone ringing. The sound burned heavily in his ears, somehow louder than usual. Once he was seated in his leather chair, he picked up the receiver in a swift, deliberate motion.

“Hello,” he offered, determined to keep the weariness from his voice.

Brune’s round face turned to the lady in the doorway distractedly, before she focused on her with abrupt intent. Her eyes had suddenly become huge, pink globes, reflecting Jaciam’s purple image within them.

“HUH?!”

One pair of arms flew up to her antennae, combing the feathery structures over with her fingers as if something had suddenly flew into them. She squinted as if she wasn’t seeing Jaciam properly. The moth could see a woman’s body, slighter than she (and a little taller) with purple feathers and wings. Brune had expected to see a gryphon’s head posted on those slight shoulders, but instead there was something quite different in its place.
Brune’s other arm, the one below her busy upper appendages, rubbed its neighboring amputated stump.

The nurse who had taken over the charge of escorting her was a deep chestnut stag with small, velvet tipped antlers. He went onto an introduction; his voice was light, almost adolescent. He took care to sound relaxed; Brune was always awkward with strangers but experience taught all the staff that she could be quite unpredictable. The best they could do was keep a close eye and hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

“Good Morning Miss Katiyen, this is Brune, Dryocunda.”

“I know who she is.” Brune blundered, looking embarrassed. She stared down at her feet; they had made her put on some slippers for some reason and she didn’t like them.

“Her room is being cleaned up, so she will be staying close nearby until she can go back.”

===

“Dr. Liok!” came the voice from the other end, almost relieved “Oh thank goodness, this is Luisia. I am so sorry to bother you on such short notice, and at a time like this… but if you could–” (there was a slight static interference and her voice petered out for a brief moment) “–I would be very grateful.” There was a shuffling in the background. It became evident at that moment that Dr. Kuin was multitasking. Her voice popped back again, loud and desperate.

“I left a few medications and a few folders in my office last night, and I really need them today, but I’m afraid that I cannot leave to drive over to work to pick them up. I– just a moment dearie…” There was a clunk and a stony silence as the phone was pressed down somewhere. There was a muffled noise in the background, Dr. Kuin seemed to be talking, although it was too muffled to tell exactly what she might be saying.

“Dear me!” she came back breathless again “Nic, I mean Dr. Liok… I beg your pardon but– this is really quite important. I really do need those things, but I cannot leave my house any time soon. Of all things a tree fell down in the storm last night and not only did it knock out the power to my house but–” (once again static buzzed inside the phone).

“Nic-? I mean Dr. Liok, are you there?” Her voice swam back through a sea of a thousand crackling rice krispies, sounding both puzzled and excited. “The reception here has become terrible! I’m borrowing a cell phone from a construction worker and I really have no clue how to use it–”

Jaciam visibly jumped at the moth girl’s wild exclamation, looking startled at the reaction that her gentle greeting had immediately elicited. As Brune stared at her, Jaciam found herself studying with sheepish appreciation the girl’s huge, mothlike eyes. She was surprised that she couldn’t see her reflection in them; Jaciam would have imagined that she would be able to detect fragments of broken images, like the many shards of a mirror. But the polygonal surfaces were clean and dark.

“You know me?” she blurted in surprise as Brune looked at her slippers in embarrassment. “I don’t… have we ever met? You seem really familiar.” Jaciam studied her face so carefully it could have been perceived as rude. Snippets of fractured memory prickled at the edge of her awareness, and she could not get the year 1952 and the picture of crackling paper out of her head.

“It’s nice to meet you, Brune, even if we’ve never met. I guess you know my name is Jaciam already. Somehow.” The gryphon scratched absentmindedly behind one of her large, tufted ears, beginning to feel guilty that she did not have a clear memory of meeting Brune when everything indicated that she should have.

– – –

“Yes, this is Dr. Liok,” Nicodemus affirmed curiously, his eyebrows darting upwards at the muffled sounds at the end of the line. The volume seemed to be growing louder and softer in an unfortunate rhythm, and because he had never heard that happen on his phone before, he could only assume that it was the fault of the other line.

“Luisia?” the wolf repeated, legitimately surprised by the call. He had never had a close relationship with Dr. Kuin, although they were certainly cordial colleagues. He had transferred several clients over to her care in the previous year.

Why is she asking me to deliver her files in the middle of a work day? Nicodemus wondered, almost annoyed by the request. Doctors had very little time to spend with each patient throughout the day, let alone to run errands outside the institution. He was tempted to tell her that he could not take the time to do this, but something stopped him. It was the voice in the back of his head that never said anything but carried intuition that had rarely proven wrong. Somehow Dr. Liok knew that might have been the most important thing he would do that day, and that he could not refuse it.

Something strange seemed to be happening to the phone line. Amidst the bumps and thuds on Luisia’s end and the unfortunate interruptions to their conversation, static would sometimes grow in waves of eerie prickles and crackles. If he moved his attention momentarily away from the sounds on the other end of the line, he could almost make out a laughing whisper, slow and drawn out, in words that had no language of their own. Dr. Liok wondered what was wrong with him, and decided that he really had to try to get more sleep that night.

“Dr. Kuin, yes of course I’ll bring them. I can come over on my lunch break, is that soon enough?” he affirmed in his deep, even tone. He had already failed in his valiant effort to keep the exhaustion from his voice. “Just tell me what exactly it is that you need and where I can bring it.”

Brune basically had a nonexistent nose (her antennae picked up scents as well or better than any), but the bridge between her eyes had formed a wrinkle.

“Of course I know you. We’ve never met… but I heard you talking with your brother yesterday, nearly all afternoon.” She didn’t lift her gaze directly to meet Jaciam’s, she kept looking at her sideways, as if shying away from her peering gaze.

“Yeah, I know your name,” she muttered more in an undertone. “It isn’t Jaciam though.” She tilted her head to one side and raised a hand to her mouth, cupping it to whisper into a space of air beside her.

“I thought that you said she had black hair?” came the suspicious statement.

The deer nurse was watchful, but he turned aside breifly to inquire if there was a room cleared out for Brune yet. All the other rooms in other halls were filling up like emergency shelters to house new patients. It seemed rather odd that the infirmary was actually going to be used when only a short day ago, they had vacant rooms just sitting there collecting dust.

What chaos.

====

“Your lunch break, oh that’s perfect! Oh that’s wonderful…” a baritone yelp in the background cut off Dr. Kuin’s message gratitude momentarily as she called back, pulling the phone away from her face “The powerbox is in the cellar, but hold on for just a moment-! (*crackle*)–

“Alright, there is a metal cabinet by my desk which should be unlocked. On one of the shelves, there is a tin box with a lock combination on it its lid, if you could bring that with you. There is a small stack of folders on my desk that are full of loose papers but I’m pretty sure that I taped them up, and those I need as well.

“My address… should be…” (another jolt of static) “It’s actually not too far from here as the crow flies, and it’s the only house built on Schwarzfichte lane. You really can’t miss it as there is a big tree in the road… just go north on 77 and when you reach the coned off detour, tell whoever is there that you came to visit me. I’ll try and meet you before you turn in on the dirt road to save you trouble… the dirt road it has become a bit treacherous, and there are cars here and there…” When she was finished she seemed a little out of breath.

Schwarzfichte road was an obscure, winding turnoff that was not unlike the path that led up to the asylum, only that it wasn’t paved and not surrounded by an iron grate fence. However Dr. Kuin’s house /was/ surrounded by a thick forest of tall, black spruce, which blotted out the noise from the highway and completely camouflaged her a-frame cottage from view. The little wooden sign on the mailbox that announced the address had been obliterated the night before…. but Dr. Liok would no doubt have no trouble finding the detour while traveling one of the most highly traveled roads in the county.

Jaciam blinked in response, astonishment swelling past her awareness and almost coming to breaking point. “Wait… what?” she answered in innocent confusion. She had the uncanny feeling that she had been placed in a role in a play and have simply forgotten all her lines. There was a voice in her head that made her dizzy, a deep baritone voice that just made sounds and not words. She felt as if she were floating several inches off the ground. Soon everyone would begin laughing that Jaciam had not spent last night studying her lines. She was the only one who didn’t get the joke. Was she even here at all? The baritone, soundless voice leaked, and she was afraid that it had been so loud that everyone else would be hearing it too. The sense of being a non-entity, of being a nothing-mirror, grew to such intensity that Jaciam almost doubled over in the wave of racking, stark depersonalization.

“I don’t understand,” the gryphon confessed, her voice soft and halting. She sounded almost close to tears. “What to you mean, my name isn’t Jaciam? I think that is my name. I thought that was my name?” aren’taperson aren’taperson aren’taperson aren’taperson. “I am sorry that my brother and I kept you up yesterday afternoon. I didn’t realize we were talking so loud.” She ran her hand across her loose, black braid, pulling it over her shoulder to look nervously at it. It was a sickly, oily grey. She could see speckles of noise covering it in her damaged vision, like a photograph with too high light sensitivity. “It is supposed to be black. Has my hair changed color already?” she asked slightly sadly.

The staff member that had told Jaciam she would run to get her art materials had overheard the conversation and was now turning and staring suspiciously at the pair. She knew that Jaciam had no brother at the asylum, and there had been no one in her room the previous afternoon. She shifted nervously in place, skylight eyes flitting from each conversant.

– – –

Nicodemus held the receiver away from his head as a burst of violent static tore through the phone line, his tufted ear twitching in irritation. When he tentatively placed it back near his ear, he could hear Luisia’s distracted voice, hushed and hurried. It sounded like there was someone else in her house with her. “I’ll bring the tin box and the folders,” he repeated, his voice faltering as another thin laugh whispered to him through the receiver. A laugh that wasn’t Dr. Kuin’s.

“I know the road you’re talking about,” he affirmed, disturbed by the things he was hearing. He wanted to make the rest of the phone call brief. “I’ll be there in a few hours. Stay safe until then, Dr. Kuin,” he offered congenially before replacing the slick black receiver onto its cradle. He scribbled her directions hastily on a bright pink post-it note, sticking it to the corner of his desk before pulling out several patient files to study for the morning rounds.

Brune clicked her tongue on the roof of her mouth and her thin fingers fidgeted. Her face was screwing up uncomfortably at the sound of Jaciam’s shaken voice.

“Be calm and steady and don’t fret,” she instructed reasonably. “I’m sure we can figure this all out.” She was now inspecting her in an almost cartoonish way, hmm-humming and nodding in affirmation.

“Yup. It appears that not only do you have the wrong name, and the wrong hair… but the wrong face too. I can’t say where you got them all from. It’s a serious case. Someone must have replaced your real head in the middle of the night when you were asleep.” Quite suddenly, she clapped a pair of hands to her mouth.

“Maybe it was the Cat Man!” Her eyes were wide and shining, reflecting the polygonal shapes that made up her iris. “You know, I bet that was it! He came into my room last night, and then left shortly afterward without saying a thing to me. I bet that he was looking around for you.” Horrified at this realization, but even more horrified at the prospect that she might have frightened Jaciam to her wit’s end, the moth quickly dropped her hands.

“Don’t worry Kate!” she assured adamantly, while her brows formed a concerned line “I’ll make sure to find your real head in due time. It can’t be very far away.” Quite suddenly, the moth turned aside again to a column of air and snarled, her face flushed with anger. “My face is NOT fat thank you very much. I’m sure that’s not the reason he didn’t take it too.”

By this time the deer nurse had quickly returned to attendance; he had managed to get a room cleared out for her, the infirmary room 13, which was just down the hall from them.

“Are you ready Brune?” He exchanged a glance with the nearby white bear nurse, noticed her expression, and looked back to the moth and gryphon questioningly.

“Perhaps you two will see each other again during the movie tonight,” he said. This was actually the first time Brune had carried on a conversation with such interest in someone else. Usually the conversation always ended up about her imaginary friends. It would be good for her to make contact with someone outside of her imaginary realm, and any interest that the moth showed should be encouraged somehow.

Jaciam stepped backwards, partway into her room, but continued to stare unblinkingly at the moth-girl’s huge, orb-like eyes. “The Cat Man?” she echoed unthinkingly. “What was his real name? Did she have the skull of a cat, huge teeth and empty eye sockets?” The pronoun switch had occurred without her realization. Her voice had developed an urgency, even though she suspected that the Cat Man was not the same as the Doppler. For one thing, the Doppler was unequivocally female, as her feline skull was always positioned on the neck and shoulders of an utterly emaciated woman, bones standing out starkly against her oddly human skin.

The nervous milieu worker glanced at the nurse with concern. Jaciam knew what she was thinking—that letting patients engage with reckless abandon in these kind of delusional and paranoid fantasies only increased their depth into a world that no one else could understand. And if no one else understood about the reality they were talking about, then it was unacceptable. “Jaciam and Brune, maybe you should…” the staff member began tentatively.

Uncharacteristically, given her demure nature, Jaciam interrupted the bear, still staring at Brune. “Kate??” the gryphon exclaimed, her voice louder than usual. “Kate?! What kind of a name is that?”

But even as Brune said it, Jaciam felt the world reversing, her sense of self shifting almost upside down, the blood running to her head as the rivers reversed. Everything so clearly made sense now, and she had only to change her name. She was someone else and that was why everything felt so alien and dystonic to her. Kate. She had to remember to mention that to Nox. Maybe he would like her new name.

Jaciam shifted her gaze to the nurse, although her stare had turned inward, like a thick sheet of fog had rolled over her face and she could not see anything clearly anymore. “Nice to meet you Brune…” Jaciam offered in a distant voice. “I hope I see you again tonight. Maybe we can sort this out with my brother.” As Brune was lead away into her infirmary room, Jaciam watched her leave and then retreated into her own room.

Approximately ten minutes later, the staff worker that had looked upon Jaciam and Brune’s conversation with such anxious interest knocked on Jaciam’s door with her art supplies. The gryphon accepted them with genuine appreciation, and lay on her bed for the next several hours, sketching out a new piece over a slightly stained canvas.

At the first minute of the lunch hour, Dr. Liok did not waste any time in retrieving Dr. Kuin’s folders and supplies, slipping them into his briefcase as he strode from the building and into his car. As he backed out of the parking lot, he traced the upcoming route in his head. A song that seemed somehow familiar played softly on his radio, the sound too dim to make out the lyrics.

When Dr. Liok pulled his awareness back to route 77, he thought for a moment that he had perhaps gone too far. It was only a second later when he saw the wide area dotted with a half circle of orange traffic cones, and he turned on his blinker and pulled into the area, his car jerking up and down as it left the pavement.

The wolf remembered that Luisia had told him that someone would be there, waiting, but there didn’t seem to be anyone around. He frowned in curiosity, his neck craning around to look out the back of the window, but the only thing he could see was the hazy outline of a car far in the distance on the same route he had been on. The spruces along Schwarzfichte lane waved rhythmically in the breeze. He could not decide whether it looked like an inviting wave or a frantic gesture to turn back.

Nicodemus waited for five full minutes before shrugging in mild annoyance, putting his car in drive and pulling past the cones and slowly along the dirt road of Schwarzfichte lane. He could hear the grinding of dirt and pebbles against his wheels reverberate throughout the entire car as he rolled along. The spruces pressed up against either side of the road seemed to block out most of the sun and he was caught for a moment by the sheer beauty of it.

At first, Dr. Liok did not see the splinters of the demolished mailbox at the base of her driveway, given that he could barely see slivers of her house between the trees from the winding road he was on. With some trepidation at having sought out her abode, he turned into Luisia’s driveway and drove up to her house.

The reason why Dr. Kuin hadn’t sent out someone down to greet Dr. Liok, (or had gone down herself) was sprawled all over a bedroll in the attic of her house. A small patient was wearing one of her bath gowns, frilly and appliquéd with images of different types of coffee beverages, and now vomit was splashed down its front. The unicorn had been sleeping soundly only a little while ago, but had awoken sharply, had thrashed around a bit and spewed everywhere.

The feline was mopping up the mess and changing the bag from the wastebucket. Her black grey hair was not up in a bun like usual; it came down to her shoulders in soft, wavy curls. Ironically, she seemed in far less of a disarray; she was unconfined, loose. She wore simple sweatpants and a turtleneck and her glasses lay on a desk downstairs.

“Drink more water,” she said.

“There are so many dicks on the ceiling,” the unicorn croaked weakly, ignoring the proffered bottle. “And they’re all staring at me. It’s freaky… I don’t think they’ll EVER stop…”

“You need more fluids. Drink.” She got a gurgle of a response. A groping, unsteady hand slopped water down his face before she was able to help him.

“My head is gonna bust,” he growled. “I swear it is. I swear it’s gonna pop just like a daisy… fff…”

“You’ll feel better in time,” Dr. Kuin insisted in a somewhat musical tone and arose with a cloth-full of retch. She was padding bare-pawed across the wooden floorboards when she happened to glance out the window, and spotted the car pulling into the drive.

“Dr. Liok!” she almost shrieked, thoroughly astounded for a moment “Oh DEAR! He’s already here, the poor man, and it’s an absolute obstacle course downstairs.”

“Whazzafrut?!” bellowed Hyson, who was startled by the commotion, and sicked up up a fresh batch. Luisia turned to the window pushed up the sash. Her head popped out of the top window of the house, whose roof tips touched the ground on either side. From the front, it looked like a green triangle, for green plantation blanketed its front almost completely except for the windows. The meager yard was dotted with vegetable patches and a narrow, cobblestone path. Luisia waved.

“Dr. Liok!” she yelled above the yowls behind her (something about “toothed chickens”). “I do apologize for all of this! Do you think that you could come inside?” Despite the circumstances, she was somehow smiling. Unreal situations such as these could make her burst out laughing, sometimes out of frustration, but also because she knew she would be laughing about it later. Right now though, she was just inexorably happy to see Dr. Liok, and her face glowed with distinct relief.

Luisia’s a-frame was full of noise. German voices intermingled as workers shuffled around each other. Their equipment covered much of the furnishings inside; chords snaked about like vines on the hardwood floor, while a pump lay near an entryway vacuuming commotion coming up from the floor below. There was a serious leaking problem as well as a power outage in the house. Although anyone upstairs could not see the foot of rusty red water that filled the basement cellar, the smell of sulfur, reminiscent of that at the asylum, lingered in the air.
The tree that had fallen had not only wiped out a power line, blocked a road and destroyed a mailbox, but just around the corner of the house were the remains of Dr. Kuin’s car, evidence of the adventure the night before.

“Ach, Mensch! Du hast wirklich Pech!” the workers had laughed lightly with the puma, who seemed to be taking the occasion in stride. The group of electricians and plumbers had at first arrived with distant attitudes in light of the daunting task ahead of them. When Luisia appeared with bowls of ice cream since her freezer no longer functioned, she managed to lighten the atmosphere. Now they worked in lively cooperation. They would be completely gratified to stay a bit after hours just to make sure that anything within their power had been taken care off.

Nonetheless, Luisia had prepared to read by candlelight tonight.

Nicodemus was initially aghast at the damage that the storm had wrought in the previous night. His eyes roved with grim anticipation over the damaged mailbox, the ripped power lines, and the crunched wreckage that must have once been Luisia’s car. As he parked his car somewhat inconveniently in the driveway, thinking that he was going to have to move his car if any of the workmen wanted to take their trucks out, he gathered his materials and stepped out of his vehicle.

At first, he began walking towards the door with trepidation. When he was halfway across the span of vegetation, he heard Luisia’s enthusiastic voice echo from somewhere above him. The wolf’s ears perked on his head and immediately located the noise from an upstairs window. He almost didn’t recognize the doctor for a moment with her hair falling in loose curls around her neck.

He waved in response, slightly confused as to why she seemed so inexorably happy, and crossed the threshold through the front door. It opened with a soft creak, and he shut it behind him.

Although Nicodemus was old and his sense of smell was not what it used to be, the first thing that struck him was the distinct scent of vomit, which permeated the house. The source seemed to be on the second floor.

“Hello?” he exclaimed. He was generally a soft-spoken man and did not like shouting, because he had been around so many patients for whom shouting was associated with aggression. Luisia had been on the second floor when she had called to him though, so he circled around to the base of the stairs and began climbing them.

“Dr. Kuin?” he again called out quietly, but he found himself walking towards the room with the strongest smell of vomit, perhaps implicitly assuming that he would find something of interest there, if not his colleague herself. “I have the materials you asked me to… oh my…”

He had just walked past the threshold of the room with a dazed looking man sprawled across the bed, streaks of vomit smeared across the floor. Dr. Liok glanced with raised eyebrows towards the puma. He wanted to ask what had happened, but the social mores of privacy stayed his temptation. “Do you need any help here?” he finally offered after a stunned moment.

“You’ve already helped a great deal.” She slid the folders out of his arm and unto a desk that was propped against the wall. The tin box she cradled in her hand and set down gently next to it.

“This man has been undergoing a heavy withdrawal,” she said as she unhinged the lid, carefully pulling out its contents. There were small glass vials carefully nestled within cotton padding; each was examined and then set out.

“He has been regularly cycling through hallucinations, alertness, and sleeping. Last night he took a powerful dose of opiates along with a few other substances. He has taken a few of these things in the past, but not to this extent. I think he was participating in some sort of religious ritual–”

“I…. TOLD… you… it’s called… Novena. The Mexicans all do it… and I mixed it with… the banishing ritual of the pentagram,” the equine croaked. He had propped himself up on one elbow, eying the new guest dubiously with a golden eye. The other was shut tight as light slanted through the window, illuminating his sickly looking face. He did not seem unfriendly, but he seemed to be sizing the wolf up, or at least wondering from where he had suddenly appeared.

“In the storm last night, I was not able to reach a hospital,” said Luisia. “The safest route was straight home. I was able to stave off much of his symptoms but I wanted to give him something that would help him through it better than what I could provide.” her voice fluttered off as she sterilized her hands, and reached for a box of disposable gloves. About her were the signs of a makeshift studio, as tidy as anyone in her position could’ve made it.

“I left my glasses downstairs.” she muttered to herself, she set down some cleaning swabs and a palette of syringes. Selected amongst many were two bottles. One in particular was oddly shaped, and the contents seemed to have an almost, ‘luminescent’ quality, though perhaps it was an illusion of the eye.

“Thank you,” she said, almost demurely towards Dr. Loik. “I’m sure this seems unconventional, but as I said to a friend just before I left the hospital yesterday…” her voice trailed off as she thought of Jaciam, but Hyson interrupted her before she could continue.

“Is he going to give me a massage or what?” he was still staring at Dr. Liok. “Sorry, but I dun’ think I would like an old guy giving me a massage.”

Did she just use me as a courier to funnel drugs out of the hospital? he heard himself ask to himself, even though he could hear other possibilities in his head frantic to explain away what he had just seen.

Perhaps those are over-the-counter drugs.

If they aren’t, she did say that she could not bring him to a hospital last night.

But the storm is over now…

Her car was totaled.

He almost laughed at himself. Her car was totaled?! He must have gotten less sleep than he thought. Obviously people went to the hospital all the time without cars available; that’s what 911 was for.

He opened his mouth to question her about the identities of the drugs he had brought her, but then shut it again. He would not bring up the potential (and quite serious) ethical violation he was witnessing right now until they were both at the hospital again, away from this vividly ill man.

Who was now requesting a different masseuse than Dr. Liok.

“I understand you could not reach a hospital…” the wolf began as he put his briefcase on the floor and stepped more fully into the room. He was beginning to become habituated to the smell of vomit. “But who is this person? Where did you bring him from, exactly…?”

In the hesitation that followed, Nicodemus directed his clear, blue eyes at the unicorn. “Is this a ritual connected with religion?” he asked curiously. “Were you trying to reach someone?”

Although Luisia watched Dr. Liok within her peripheral vision, her hand actions continued to convey a calmness and sureness, but the fur on her tail was standing on end. She prepared the vials that she intended to administer to Hyson, and the stranger looking ones, the glowing substances that didn’t quite look like conventional medicine, she replaced in the tin case.

“I was familiar with Mr. Sable through my grandson. I was actually very surprised to find him here.” Hyson was quick to interlude once more. His bold gaze had not wavered from the wolf. Despite the repercussion of whatever he had consumed, the was livid. His delicate looking equine nostrils where flared, and his ears, downy and large, where cocked at 90. There was no bashfulness in his face; even though he was practically swimming in his own residue and wearing an old woman’s robe, he promptly began regaling the events of last night.

“I could explain it all,” he vaunted to his new audience member, in a fashion that sounded like he was only going to gossip about someone else- “Yes, I was trying to reach someone. I wanted… closure.” He stroked his forehead with a thumb and forefinger.

“See, I never got to say goodbye to my friend before he died.” He paused for a moment and then nodded. “The least I could do was try and say I was sorry. There’s this chic that the Mexican hoodlums worship. She was called La Santa Meurte, and she doesn’t care how messed up you are, she’s the ‘master of all trades.’ Honestly, I think religion is hokum, but I DO believe in the healing power of hallucinations and drugs. Since the combination seems to work so well for some people, I figured thought I’d fuck around with her too.”

Hyson was waving his free arm like a conductors baton, he seemed most amused with himself- “So if you can picture me stumbling around, stopping at every corner to barter for what I need. There is hardly anyone around here so I’m basically pulling aside innocent pedestrians on the street, trying to shove everything that’s in my pockets in their faces -’you wanna wristwatch? I got this nice wristwatch. Or how about some porn? You’ll miss the climax because I recorded Seinfeld on the other side.’

“Anyway, when I was all set, Drove out to some old storage houses on the side of the highway. When I break inside I set up everything, I’m still completely shit-housed. The problem that I realized was that I knew basically nothing about Novena other than what I learned in Mexican prison. And.. uh.. well, they don’t exactly sell “A Dummies Guide to Praising Your Undead Goddess” in German. So I ended up applying a little bit of a paganism ritual to “see into the other side.” He paused and fanned himself a little with his hand, and hiccuped.

“In hindsight, mixing in Paganism in might have not been a good idea.” His face had become quite contemplative. His next statement seemed to be directed more to himself. “Nothing turned out right, or at least the way I thought it would.” As if realizing that he might have spoken a little bit too much, his ears flicked back, and he jolted himself.

“Did that answer your question? Mr… ?”

“… Liok,” filled in Luisia, by now she was kneeling down beside the equine. “Please roll up your sleeve.” Hyson did so without protest, though his attention suddenly focused in on his tenant as she swabbed a part of his arm with some rubbing alcohol and cotton.

“There is one thing that I still don’t understand. Where exactly did you come from? I mean, unless that was your storage shed I broke into, no one would have known I was there.”

Luisia was quiet as she planted the syringe and injected.

“I was given a message last night as to your whereabouts,” she said when she was done, promptly tidying up. “With the storm last night you might have caught hypothermia–”

“Your eyes look too familiar!” Blurted out Hyson again, who had returned his attention back to Dr. Liok. “A rather stunning shade of blue. Are you’re sure they’re not someone else’s eyes?”

Nicodemus was stone silent throughout the unicorn’s explanation, although the strange light of his eyes indicated he was listening very intently. Every so often, his ear would flick a fraction of a degree, as if he were using them to sort the information he was receiving into relevant categories. Master of all trades… he reflected suddenly as Hyson described the goddess he had invoked in this ritual. Why does that sound so familiar? Master of all trades. Of course the doctor did not believe that the man had actually accessed a spirit world, or that he had tangled with La Santa Muerte. Dr. Liok was a practical man and had been schooled in a tradition of science. However, he was not sure that a bad drug trip was the whole explanation to what was going on. He had a sudden, vivid memory of crackling laughter on his phone line, a whispering susurrus of nonsense.

The hairs on the back of the wolf’s neck stood up at an angle, and he was filled with a sudden sense that he had multiple pieces to a jigsaw puzzle that he could fit if only he had the picture on the box. But the box had been lost long ago and each of the pieces were changing shape with every second, making them impossible to put together into a gestalt.

The fact that Luisia had found Hyson in a random shack on the side of the road, the ethereal glow of the vials that she placed back in her box, and the deliberate vagueness with which she conveyed the ‘message’ that she had received the previous night about Hyson’s location, gave Dr. Liok the rather uncomfortable feeling that she had more of a picture of what was happening than he did.

He was startled by Hyson’s sudden interrogation, and he directed his gaze fully at the sick man. “Um,” he began inarticulately. “Yes, I’m quite sure my eyes are mine. Have you seen them before?” he pressed in curiosity, although he was quite sure he had never before met Hyson.

Nicodemus turned towards Luisia and felt unusually irritated. He knew that she was not giving him half the information that she had, and she had just asked him to ferry drugs out of the hospital without his awareness. His mouth formed a kind of half-crooked frown and his eyebrows angled in a way that appeared almost stern. “Now that the storm is over, I assume that you will be taking him to the hospital?” Dr. Liok stated flatly. “I am surprised, frankly, that you did not call 911 earlier.”

“Yeah- well. The Organ Trade is in town, or so I heard.” grumbled Hyson in response to Dr. Liok “Body parts are ending up missing. Eyes, voice boxes that kind of nature. Sooner or later it’s going to be heads and wings.”

Meanwhile, Luisia regarded Dr. Liok with a gentle nod.

“That would seem like the logical choice.” She pulled herself from her kneeling position so that she stood shoulder to shoulder with her colleague. Her expression could only be described as inertly excitable, as though she where a teacher unable to articulate herself.

“A trusted friend is going to be picking him up from here, and will be departing back to America in a few short days. Mr. Sable is going to be joining him on the trip back overseas.”

“Whozzafrut?” barked Hyson

“Manglev dear, he is taking you home.” said Dr. Kuin looking to him. “I tried telling you this earlier–”

“Wh- hold on, the-crazy old chef guy? He’s in Germany?” Hyson was spluttering, holding up a hand to silence Lusia again “Manglev was one of my exorcism clients back in the day. In fact, me and Nox worked for him for maybe a year or two when we were down on cash. Very hard to forget a character like that. How does the likes of sweet little ol’ you know him?”

“Well, I was planning on explaining things when he actually arrived.” said Luisia. Hyson was hooting and swearing himself hoarse.

“I’m not sure if I want to travel with that angry bastard–”

“He did not come here because of you,” Luisia sounded exasperated. “He came for his own reasons.”

“Ahhhh-! Well since he’s not here right now, why don’t you tell me what’s going on before hog tying me and shipping me back to the Nazi-free country?” Luisia swallowed so very hard that it physically showed. She briefly touched her forehead with her fingertips and closed her eyes.

“I’m not trying to be secretive, to either of you.” she said rather plainly, giving a look to both Dr. Liok and Hyson. “And I apologize for how unorthodox this may appear- but if you only knew the circumstances-”

“Well excuse me but I have AWWL the time in the world for stories right now.” The equine raised his brows at Dr. Liok. “and I’m sure he deserves to know what’s going on as well, even if he’s being dragged into YARRGGGH–” His end sentence was punctuated by a dramatic upheaval. The unicorn looked sick for a moment, his head bowed over, his horn nearly touching the floor to his side. After a moment though, he pulled himself from the throe, wiping away tears. He was far too interested in what Luisia had to say then bother vomiting again. The woman had the tricky task of unwinding herself from the ball of untold tales she had unwittingly managed to tangle in. Time was certainly not on her side, and she could not avoid the equine’s curious gaze, nor, no doubt, poor Dr. Liok’s confusion and disapproval.

“Dr. Liok, I did not call a hospital because I thought that if Hyson was checked into a hospital he may never be checked out again. He’s pulled Houdini’s…. before.” With this she cast a look over to the disheveled man- who appeared, if for a moment, as if he’d been rightly justified, before helplessly shrugging.

“Hospitals are costly and ask too many questions.”

“I’ve known your Manglev long before he was your client. The reason he seems so troubled is because of the ghosts of his past, and I suspect that is why he is making a trip here. I trust him with my very life, and so I would trust no one else to escort you safely home.”

Dr. Liok listened hard, his ears folded almost completely against the contours of the neatly combed hair that was whitening at the roots. He noticed that his colleague was beginning to look increasingly pressured and uncomfortable, but he felt no obligation to try to reduce the strain she felt. His face remained frozen in a polite frown. He was beginning to feel like she had made several ethical missteps, and he was not quite sure how to address them to her.

He was quiet until Hyson mentioned a name that seemed familiar. At first, Nicodemus could not figure out why the name would not leave his mind, until he realized that Nox was the new patient that he had just taken onto his caseload. Several snippets of memory flashed through his mind—green so iridescent it almost glowed, eyes dulled by an excess of medication.

“Wait… Nox? You worked for Manglev with Nox?” the wolf spoke urgently, his pupils narrowing. How common of a name can Nox possibly be? he wondered. It’s a very unusual name, and Hyson traveled remarkably close to the hospital to try to mentally access a friend. His only confusion was that Hyson had said that his friend had died, and the Nox that Dr. Liok knew was certainly not dead.

“Who is this Nox you knew? Was this the friend you were trying to reach through your ritual?” he asked with a curious frown. His gaze passed from Hyson to Dr. Kuin, wondering if she knew even more than she was letting on. She was revealing more and more information the more pressed she felt, but the wolf suspected that she had quite a few cards that she still refused to reveal.

Hyson raised his eyebrows, trying to divide his attention between Liok and Luisia.

“Nox, yeah. Noxouic Venezio was his full name; he committed suicide.” this comment seemed to somber him up a bit. After a moment of apparent reminiscing he pulled himself upright and tried to untangle his legs from underneath him. He was attempting to stand up, but Luisia swooped down before he toppled over, and eased him back into his bedroll. Hyson gave a little horse-like snort.

“He deserves a proper eulogy, and I’m going to give him one, before I forget.”

“What you need to do is sleep for a good six hours,” said Lusia

“Well standing up or lying down, you can’t stop me. There are things about him that need to be said- him being dead and all.” Despite himself he began preaching to the ceiling, his voice growing more ludicrously uneven with every passing word.

“We traveled together for years- across the country mostly. If it weren’t for Nox I’d probably be dead or worse; I was always sticking my face in some bear trap or another, and he was always pulling me out.

“He was a good friend, but sometimes he was real damn annoying. Nox liked being the hero. He absolutely hated how his family history was casting a shadow over him, and I guess he was always running away from that shadow.” His ears flicked forward at this point, and a little whinny-laugh bubbled up in his throat.

“The Venezio family was so dysfunctional it coulda hosted its own soap opera. Mrs Vanezio was some sort of mercenary for hire- a sociopath as I understand. His father was not much better; got off the hook for murdering his own parents and was in cahoots with some complicated family war. Nox wanted to separate himself from that picture so bad he became obsessed. He’d even tried to enroll into the police force.
Then there was his twin sister Kate. She and Nox had always been really close. But as time progressed, she became involved in the mob… it posed a problem for him. He didn’t want to associate himself with her, he didn’t like the things she was doing- said “it would only cause trouble.” Suffice to say- that trouble killed Kate’s daughter and caused a whole hell of other problems.

“The fact that Nox ‘hadn’t been there’ for his sister, and his lack of connection to his family really rattled him. I watched him fashion himself into this vigilante character. It was as if he started living in a fantasy world, crafting a persona that that would give him space and respect. Maybe it was his lack of connection to his own family that made him want to help everyone that he met- as if trying to make up for some lost connection-” (Hyson started counting off on his fingers) “Oakla, the young lass that vanished in the vineyard, some jarhead named Taylor- he even got keen on adopting a little girl from China. All of his pursuits, which where never well founded to begin with, ended up in disaster, because something always got in the way. Up until then, I’d never seen him blame his problems on other people, but then he started talking as if “someone” was trying to set him up to drive away people he loved.” The unicorns voice became more and more sarcastic. “Never mind that I was always there with him, lickin’ his goddamn wounds.”

“I only really started seeing his crazy face near the end. Maybe it was because he stopped sleeping, or maybe it was because I was the only one he felt like he could open up to so his outspoken horror came as a magnified hyper beam. He was so damn well convinced there was something out to get him. He got so bad, that I said ‘Ok- if this is bugging you so much,  let’s go pay your sister a visit. If you could open up to her, tell her what’s going on, it could do you some good.’ I was still hoping that things would get better.

“So we camped in London and–” he paused, squinting at Dr. Kuin. “And that’s when shit hits the fan.  Our entire building went up in flames. Some jerk had the nerve to blow it all up with me still inside. After I broke out of the hospital it wasn’t too follow his sooty paw prints. I had only left him for maybe half a day before he had started playing the hero games again.

“To cut details short, he went on a some rescue mission or some shit. I can’t remember, maybe he was rescuing some damsel in distress to fill up that gaping hole of his. Same shit routine he’d been pulling for years, but because he knew how to act so well, I’m sure no one knew how far he’d been pushed. No one knew how fucking nuts he was; that he wasn’t seein’ things right anymore. He didn’t have a chance whoever he was up against.”

whoever, or whatever it was…

“Let me explain something important to y’all. My friend had a “no-kill” policy. It was something that made him different from his parents. That is why I don’t think he could’ve done those those nasty things people have accused him of in America. People said he was tossed over the boat, but I don’t believe it. I think he took the opportunity to go out in a heroic style without ruining his pride.”

The unicorn’s attention was apprehended by a strange sound issuing from the corner of the room -”Why are you crying?” Lusia had migrated away from the conversation. Her back was turned at an angle and she was wiping her face with the back of her sleeve; she didn’t turn around.

“Excuse me,” she said, and cleared her throat gingerly. “Go on honey, I’ll be right back.” And with this remark she padded straight out of the room with a long sweep of her tail.

Hyson stared after her, sadly perplexed, before returning his gaze to Dr. Liok.

“I’m sorry, I think I might’ve…” His voice tangled and crumpled into meager syllables. It was unnaturally quiet in the room. There was no wind outside, even the workers downstairs had momentarily ceased their fanfare. It was if the house itself was holding its breath, silently eavesdropping.

From another room, possibly the bathroom, there came a little shuffle and the sound of of a faucet running. This immediately invoked some loud shouts from downstairs… shortly followed by broken shout of “Tut mir leid!” by Luisia, for she had momentarily forgotten that she couldn’t use the pipes while they where working.

“Nox…” Dr. Liok repeated with a thin exhale, his brow furrowing in confusion. “Committed suicide? But… he…” He directed his look of pale confusion towards Luisia and immediately clamped his jaw shut. He had come in dangerous range of telling the poor, sick man lying on his colleague’s bed that Nox was safe and sound (well, perhaps not totally sound) in the Schmerzen asylum. That, of course, would have been a violent confidentiality violation, for which Nicodemus could have gotten into a lot of trouble.

Although he knew that he couldn’t, that the ethical standards that bound him to the integrity of his profession forbade he, he was sorely tempted to inform Hyson that Nox was alive. The unicorn was clearly torn up and agonized over the thought that his friend was dead, and Dr. Liok hated seeing another in pain while knowing that he possessed a simple an easy cure. A simple and easy cure he could not give.

The only possible solution that the doctor could see was to inform Nox during their next session that Hyson believed Nox to be dead and was grieving intensely over the loss of his friend. It would be Nox’s decision whether he wanted to contact Hyson or not, but at least Dr. Liok could give him the choice of doing so.

The wolf listened with intense curiosity and growing interest, his eyes stuck on Hyson, who proceeded to recite Nox’s life story. Most of Nox’s history was not in the file, and could not be collected on intake due to the inability of administration to find any family members that could corroborate Nox’s information and the fragile sanity on which Nox’s self-described account had rested. Dr. Liok’s sense of unease peaked at various points along the narrative: as Nox ranted about someone ‘out to get him,’ at the ‘demon inside him’ that was going to ‘turn him into someone else.’ Dr. Liok almost imagined he heard distant, tinkling music echoing in the walls of Luisia’s house, deepening his feeling of the uncanny.

He was almost startled by Luisia’s quiet sniff from the corner of her room, her small shoulders hunched and shaking with her back facing the two men in the room. Dr. Liok was surprised by the depth of her emotion. Had she been Nox’s clinician at any point in the past? Did she have a particularly strong counter transference to him? His wolf-like ears twisted backwards as he watched her leave the room for the bathroom.

The unnatural silence that ensued in the bedroom as the two men stared at each other was increasingly awkward. Dr. Liok felt a sense of grim determination over him as he told Hyson, “excuse me.” He then left in the direction that Luisia had gone, shutting the door firmly behind him. He didn’t wish to be overheard.

Once he found the bathroom that his colleague occupied, Nicodemus approached her, glancing briefly towards the door that separated them from Hyson to ensure that it was still closed. “Dr. Kuin,” he whispered urgently to her. “I don’t often voice my intuitions like this, but I have the uncanny feeling that you know more about what is going on in Schmerzen… and maybe with Nox… than you have revealed so far. Is there anything that you feel comfortable sharing with me, without your friend in earshot?”

The feline that stared back at Dr. Kuin in the mirror looked like something ancient and repellent. The half-ring of peach in her eyes were moist and she watched a tear gently roll down the path of black fur that traced from her cheek to her bottom lip. She dabbed it away with a finger.

As Dr. Liok’s footsteps drew close to her door, she shifted herself so her backside gently rested against the edge of the porcelain sink. Her hands were loosely clasped, and she fought not to keep her attention on them in order not to avoid the delving gaze of her guest.

As his voice filled the small room, Luisia was reminded of the well-meaning soul that inhabited him. This fact, more than ever, made her uncomfortable with herself, knowing that what she had done so far couldn’t be variably explained away. She was likely going to lose his respect before she was to gain it. Yet that couldn’t be helped at this point anyway, especially after she had brought him this far. Explanations were in due order, although she knew it would be impossible to elucidate everything. She would say as much that would be within Dr. Liok’s reason to accept. Any more and perhaps she would be the one sitting in the therapy sessions.

For now perhaps, it would be a step in the right direction.

“Yes, you’re right about that,” she said. Her voice was so layered with calmness it was almost monotone. She had been breathing deeply, preparing herself for this, though as soon as those words left her lips she felt overwhelmed again and a hand raised and touched her face. She was trying to find a way to begin, and eventually she found it.

“My interest in psychiatry began with my daughter. She had a strong antisocial personality. On the slightest terms she is a guiltless being, and has an uncanny ability to conceal her psychological makeup from others. During the time I had raised her, I went through some of the most troubling and darkest points of my life, and… I can understand why anyone living with her, at least someone who knew of her true intents, could develop depression symptoms..”

“When I first tried to visit her family, she reacted so violently that I did not dare try again. I knew only of my grandchildren’s life through a looking glass, and wondered how they could possibly fare under my daughters reign. She judged that my granddaughter had the closer genetic makeup to her own, and the likeness of appearance between the two also propagated ideas of rearing a younger version of herself. Her son presented flaws, she did not feel the need to protect him.

“My daughter’s logic was the only reason I was able to become familiar with my grandson at all- I still haven’t seen my grandaughter. My relationship with my grandson has been brief at best. The eulogy that you’ve heard just a moment ago was the most information I have ever heard about him.” The courage burned in her face, never once leaving Liok’s as if searching for a window of compassion from it, if not just a glimpse.

“I found Nox in a small public court west of here, but their information on him there was very scarce. The jury had no clue to his past in America, so I intervened; I told the court exactly what I’m telling you now. It ended with the ruling that Nox needed to be institutionalized.

“That was one of the reasons why I employed myself at the asylum. I wanted to be close by, but me intervening was never really an option for me even then, as you can imagine.”

She looked at him very cautiously after this, and her voice became so delicate and quiet it was barely above a whisper. She was about to share an intimate secret to which she had shared no one, for she had never needed to before.

“I feel that you should understand as to why I had taken such lengths.

“When I was a young girl I was administered a preliminary drug. It was at the Schmerzen building in fact, where I received the dosages. At the time, it was believed that the drug had properties that could heal wounds and prolong life. I was kept upon it for some time, and it seemed to work. It did wonders for my own daughter, who gained full benefit from the drug with none of its side effects and grandchildren- but unfortunately effects of the medicine have finally caught up with me- its initial test filter. My blood is so thick with the substance that I will likely live for another five years at most.
You might have guessed by now that the medicine that you’ve brought me were not simply for Hyson. They were for me. ” She paused and cleared her throat.

“I want Nox to be able to enjoy the rest of his life. I’m just trying to fulfill that the best that I can, Dr. Liok.”

As Luisia related her story, Nicodemus had to hold back from burying his wolflike muzzle into his hands in sheer despair and frustration at how mired his colleague was in grim memories and unethical decisions. The expression on his face was one of mixed compassion and incredulity. He felt almost overwhelmed by the details that Luisia had spontaneously decided to share.

And what should he believe? The lines between reality and fantasy were becoming increasingly blurred, but Dr. Liok had the firmest sense that Luisia was neither lying nor did she have a tenuous grip on reality. Illegal medications were administered in Schmerzen? Luisia was Nox’s grandmother? She did not look nearly old enough to be someone with a grown grandchild. It seemed impossible. Unreal. How could a medication decrease a person’s aging process? Dr. Liok suddenly had a feeling of intense depersonalization, and he wondered if he were dreaming.

Several times, Dr. Liok opened his mouth to express his disbelief or perhaps to chastise her, but each time his jaws closed again. He simply could not bring himself to scold Luisia at a time when she was exposing herself so vulnerably to him, when the look on her face was at that poignant junction of desperation and wistfulness. How could he have told her then what a serious mistake she had made? That she must have been either lying or insane? Dr. Liok was no longer sure of his convictions anymore, of what constituted ethical practice or heartless sanitization.

Nicodemus finally stammered, “I… I don’t know how to respond, Luisia.” It was the most honest thing he had said all day. “I don’t know whether to be disbelieving or disapproving or sympathetic or… or…” He looked confused and compassionate. “This is a lot of information to digest. Does anyone else at the hospital know?”

He offered a slightly sad smile, as if mirroring her sorrow. “Oh… and by the way… you really can call me Nicodemus.”

She shook her head gently ‘no’, a soft curl of hair sloughed off from her shoulders and hung squarely between her eyes. Dr. Liok’s smile prompted her to return it through shyly veiled tears as she touched her palm to her eyes. A nervous laugh melted into a debonair one.

She couldn’t help it. It was soothing to tell someone, and now that she did she felt strangely tired, as if a great thorn had been pulled from her side.

“I’m also sure it’s only a matter of time before the whole story comes out, but when the time comes for me to accept the outcome of my charade, I hope that we will at least both be able to sleep well again.”

From down the hall, there came a startlingly boisterous “YEEACK!” from Hyson, slightly muffled by the wooden walls. Luisia’s ears perked on her head and she frowned a little in thought of what lay in wait for her. Nevertheless, she smiled at Nicodemus, who she would’ve liked to have considered a friend a long time ago and not just under these circumstances.

“Thank you Nic.” she said, and pushed herself up from the sink.

Dr. Liok held up his hand, as if he sensed that Luisia was about to move out of the bathroom to clean up after Hyson’s latest expulsion. “The story might come out eventually, but it won’t be from me,” he assured her after another pause. “This is going to be your story to tell, and even though I might feel ambivalent about the wisdom behind some of your decisions, I do not think it is my place to say anything.” The wolf put down his hand again, his ice blue eyes staring with stern compassion at his colleague.

“But I think there is also more going on with Nox than meets the eye. It is best if you have no role in his clinical care, obviously—not as his doctor, nor as his therapist. But… from what you have seen… do you know why doctors have been so lax in his care? The paper trail of his diagnosis and assessment is abysmal. He was clearly overmedicated. I might even go as far as to say that he fell through the cracks of the institution.” He watched Dr. Kuin’s face carefully for any hint of emotion, as if he might glean some hint from a twitch of her eye as to why this situation had been wound into a knot in the first place. “You are essentially at the institution to keep a watchful eye over Nox, as you have told me.” He was careful to keep any hint of blame isolated from his voice. In all honesty, he felt strongly that Luisia was not responsible for the institutional failure that had let Nox fall into a web of neglect. “This was clearly not your fault… but… perhaps you have some insight that you might have kept… quieter… as to what is wrong with Nox? Why he had almost fallen through the cracks of Schmerzen?”

Nicodemus tilted his head and stepped closer, suddenly overcome with an impulse that he did not stifle in time for it to leave his mouth. “Dr. Phaedrus spoke to me yesterday about how Nox’s case had been mismanaged. Someone has been orchestrating doctors and psychologists to haphazardly take him on their caseload, before they disappear. A whole stream of employees, all who have been assigned to Nox, have fallen off the map. Do you know anything about this?”

Luisia held the wolf’s gaze for a silent moment, a little line forming between her eyes and the two dark brown eye spots that served as eyebrows.

“I wouldn’t know if anyone assigned the doctors to Nox through the paperwork I have seen. Personally, I thought that most of the doctors were drawn to take on his casefile by their own whimsy, but it may be more likely that it had been suggested to them. He had started off on a low profile, his only misdemeanor had been when he had first arrived then proceeded to escape from Schmerzen.”

Luisia would not remark on how she believed that as long as Nox was ensured to stay in an anesthetized coma, the asylum would remain in a similar state of suspended sciolism, only vaguely aware of what sort of horrors that lay dormant beneath their very beds.

“There was one thing that stood out to me,” she eventually consigned. “That up until the time a doctor left, Nox’s thought process was most functional due to lack of medication. This was always followed up by a behavioral outbreak, and he was promptly allotted a new mental illness with new prescriptions. It was only after Nox had been successfully subdued that his caretakers vanished.

“I cannot say for sure what made them leave, but I have an idea why Nox was given a different diagnosis by each new doctor. Speaking from experiences with my own daughter, I can tell you that masking emotions and feigning second personalities was something like second nature. I believe that Nox has picked up a few tricks from his mother; I believe he mimics different mental illnesses that he observes around him. He may try to deceive you too.

“I suggest that you take your time in discovering what is troubling him, and don’t set a diagnosis in stone until you are absolutely sure. I believe he is quite addicted to his medication, and if you continue to deny him of that, he may attempt an irrational act to make you change your mind. It has worked for him in the past.”

“Hmmmm…” Dr. Liok voiced out loud as he considered what Luisia had told him. The tone of his voice was infused with blazing interest, a clinical curiosity. It was a tone that would have been appropriate for a new doctor who had just witnessed a bizarre medical anomaly. “Nox is truly a very strange case. You said that he originally escaped from Schmerzen when he first arrived? But now he is driven to stay within the confines of the asylum by mimicking severe and persistent mental disorders? What could explain this paradox? Why does he wish to stay in the asylum? It almost seems like he is motivated to convince doctors that he needs to be medicated. Would there be anything that you could think of that would explain a motive like this?”

Dr. Liok thought for a moment, his eyes darting toward the mirror. “Another thought,” he voiced after a moment, his tone lower and slightly more urgent. “Did the string of doctors assigned to his case disappear after they lessened the dose of medication Nox was prescribed, around the time that he would have demonstrate dysregulated behavior? Or did they disappear only after the medications were increased again?” Privately, Nicodemus wondered if there was someone orchestrating this strange pattern that either disliked Nox’s medication dose being too high… or disliked them being too low.

The wolf opened his mouth but hesitated, looking as if he were on the edge of speaking but could not decide whether it was appropriate to say. Finally, he murmured covertly, “What do you think of Dr. Phaedrus?”

“He almost escaped,” she mentioned. “He didn’t get far until he changed his mind, and was tagged down while he was dawdling on the outer grounds.”

Before continuing to answer his question she had to temper the lingering idea that she was somehow cheating Dr. Liok out of a sincere answer. He seemed so passionate when faced with this new information that she could see the clockwork spinning behind his blazing blue eyes. However, she couldn’t help but feel that she was somehow leading him astray to a less portentous answer, that his goodwill and rationalization would lead him to settle upon a reasonable conclusion. Reasonable perhaps, but not the truth. She felt that she could only give him as many markers as she possibly could, and that he would have to fill the spaces in between. This way, when he eventually put the puzzle together, he may be more willing to accept it, since it would be a conclusion that he himself had reached.

“Hyson said that Nox thought someone was following him. He has been fleeing the countryside for most of his adult life, and long before he had met up with our Mr. Sable. It had become a repeated cycle, one that he began to hate, and it seems to me like he wanted to put an end to it in the worst way. When he found himself in Germany, he was confused, and when he arrived in the asylum, he panicked and acted out of practiced reflex.

“I think while he was escaping the asylum, he must have realized that he was just going to jump back into his running cycle again. Since journeying seemed to be the only thing that gave him relief before, he needed an occupation to suppress whatever it was that was troubling him. Drugs seems to be doing the trick, and they have become the replacement gear in his cycle.”

A cycle that included mysteriously vanishing doctors.

“The doctors disappeared, only after the medications were increased, never before from what I could tell.” Her eyes were full of concern and responsive to Dr. Liok’s low voice.

“Dr. Phaedrus?” his name was unexpected, she shook her head as a small smile darted across her face. “Dr. Phaedrus has always been a paranoid man, and I think sometimes that his judgment is clouded by too many egoistic ideas and manipulative schemes. I think stress makes him a cold man. In some ways he reminds me of my daughter, which is why I cannot take him seriously sometimes.” She smiled oddly at this.

“Still, I have seen him do some remarkable things. I like to believe that underneath his cold exterior there is a good man who is just very socially out of touch.” Her face dipped a little and she looked at Dr. Liok meditatively, her ears lopped slightly to one side.

“Why do you ask?”

Dr. Liok’s large, wolflike ears shifted restlessly over his head, dislodging the stray wisps of his graying hair. “So Nox is self-medicating by manipulating doctors into overmedicating him… the same way that mindless travel used to be his self-medication. His tool for numbing whatever thoughts or memory was tormenting him…” He voiced it out loud in a considering way, as if testing out a hypothesis purely by how musical the words sounded together. He did not seem as if he were attempting to garner feedback from Dr. Kuin.

The doctor still did not feel entirely satisfied. He listened to an image that sprung unbidden to his mind—cracks between broken linoleum tiled that were black and hard… still unfilled by the information that lay behind secretive tongues. He did not know whether the image meant that some intuitive place inside him knew that Dr. Kuin was still not giving him everything she knew about Nox… or whether the strange events of the past few days had made him more suspicious than usual. Regardless, he felt genuinely appreciative of Dr. Kuin’s assistance, and felt suddenly as if he had gained a new ally against a foe that had no name or face. He offered a smile towards his colleague.

“I find it interesting that you have difficulty taking Dr. Phaedrus seriously… as he is possibly the most humorless person I have ever met,” Dr. Liok exclaimed, admiring the irony of it. “I honestly do not know what to think about Dr. Phaedrus… he has always been at the periphery of my awareness, to be honest, but since he divulged the secret of the string of disappearing doctors that had been assigned to Nox’s case, I began to have serious misgivings about his ability to perform competently and ethically as a director of psychiatry. I… I shouldn’t be telling you this, I think.” Dr. Liok looked suddenly anxious. He was usually the last person to be the one to speak badly behind a colleague’s back. “And sometimes… it seems like he singles you out unfairly. I have wondered in the past what you have done to make him so irritated with you.”

Loathing to appear disinterested, Dr. Liok was still driven to glance at his watch, as he had a medication consultation to attend early in the afternoon, and he suspected his lunch break would be over soon. “Oh dear… it looks like I am going to have to head back to the asylum… it is later than I expected.” Nicodemus glanced upwards at Luisia, reluctant to leave her alone after their revealing conversation. “I am glad that you trusted me to bring your medications to you,” he offered in a serious tone. “And I am also grateful for the chance to get to know you a little better.”

Luisia smiled; her eyes were huge and soft as she felt the warmth in his voice. She could understand his distress about this whole situation, and she didn’t wish to push him any further than she had. She hadn’t quite expected for it to go this far, but she was happy now that it had.

“Likewise,” she said with a nod. “And thank you. Thank you so much Nic for coming here.” Her eyespots raised a little. “And drive safe.”

======

Nox took a long look in the bathroom mirror. The thing that stared back at him was as unfamiliar as a skull. He was repulsed by the surprised expression it gave him, and yet also somehow transfixed. Those oily eyes ‘looked’ like his own, but he knew that the real ones where long gone, melted away in some dream. Blood tears welled up inside his head, whilst those strange eyes appeared to change color, if ever so slightly, to a shade of black crimson. He realized with a start that they looked like his fathers eyes.

What bull.

It had been a challenge to persuade the staff to let him take a shower. In fact, he had to be taken back to his room again before a different set of guards arrived to escort him. His helmet was taken off as if someone were deactivating a bomb, and they undid the clasps of his bindings just before he was soldiered inside the bath house.

A line of men were slowly shuffling out under the pipe faucets. It was spacious enough to allow one to move without annoyance. These men were nothing beautiful nor glamorous. They were hunched over, their bodies drooping and flaccid from all the drugs clogging their veins, all forms of appetite banished. Their eyes hardly rose above on the drains criss-crossing the linoleum floor, like bovine being herded into a meat factory, totally unaware- or there care lost. A mutual sense of ‘null’ filled the room, accompanied with pungent body odor. At any other time in his life, Nox could look at this moment with a sort of disgust.

Water gushed from the faucets simultaneously. It was a flooding sort of sound, almost comforting if the water wasn’t so cold. Some men had to be assisted in washing themselves… Nox at least retained that much dignity as he ran his fingers through his hair. Chips of crimson showed up under his fingernails; his horns had rusted over, his new perception only now made him notice the details of his decaying body.

This wasn’t the first time Nox had been taken off of drugs. Nox had presumed that after the attempts of the previous doctors to Liok, that he wouldn’t have to invent ever more creative ways of getting himself medicated again. With each new diagnosis he received he had been assigned enough drugs to blot out the noise of Loki. She couldn’t get through to him with those meds taking up all the space in his brain… but she did manage to permanently drive away the doctors prescribing him the medication. Because of that, Nox would be assigned a new one, and the process would begin again. But… he had thought after the last one it would be over with. This time it was different, he had a feeling that he wouldn’t be able to overcome this obstacle like the others.

He had been wearing so many masks that he had essentially forgotten the man that was underneath it.

=====

Iroicaly, the maintenance for cleaning up the water made it easier to install the security cameras. Dr. Phaedrus swept his gaze over the newly ensconced security station. It was a small room nearby reception, darkly lit with a few chairs. Its walls were draped with TV screens, flickering light grey blue as they broadcasted live time images of the halls and rooms of patients. For a moment he focused on the image of the flooded hallway and of workers with their toolboxes scuttling back and forth. Some of the screens where still blank as they had not yet been installed, but was all agreeable. Dr. Phaedrus would have to write a thank you note to the installers before they left.

“Hobbs!” he barked, surprising the receptionist “When do you think the leak will be fixed?”

The rabbit eyed the new security room with much less enthusiasm than the psychiatrist.

“They say that the damage is more extensive than what they had first thought. They say that it could easily spread throughout the entire building. They think it’s a ‘miracle’ that it has held up for this long actually. The main hall seems to be the only place in the building where it won’t be flooded.”

“Good, I’m sure we can set up the projectors there for the movie can’t we? Can’t have our patients’ feet wet. And what about the worst room?”

“Well, they say the next to go is the showers.”

…..

“Dr. Wolf! Wait a minute!”

Dr. Phaedrus paused in his stroll to see a pair of globular eyes staring up at him from a doorway. The little patient named Brune gazed up at him with bold curiosity. She had been in the institution for a very long time; Dr. Phaedrus remembered that when she had first arrived as a child her symptoms where frequent and furious. Now she was a young teenager and she was much more calm. Unlike other patients, who seemed intimidated by him, she treated Dr. Phaedrus like any other of her doctors. In fact, if he didn’t know better, he’d almost venture to say that she had a preference for him.

“What is it?” he paused and turned to face her. Normally he might have felt annoyance, but he didn’t mind Brune as he did his other patients. Quiet music was emanating from the patient’s new room, and he saw Oba, the African wild dog, sitting in a chair in the corner. It was a music therapy session.

“Where are you going?” she demanded, her smile faded a little and became quite serious in a matter of seconds.

“I was going to a meeting,” replied the ermine, he shot a glance down the hall, not hiding his impatience very well. “Is this important Miss Dryocunda?”

“Oh yes, very important.” The moth nodded her head earnestly so that her antennae waggled. “My sources say that you’re in danger.” Dr. Phaedrus managed to not raise his brows; instead he played a soft smile, which Brune did not return.

“Now why would your sources say that?” Brune gave a shifty glance around, and motioned for Dr. Phaedrus to lean in close to her. After a moment of consideration, he humored her. Brune stood on her tiptoes and cupped three small hands to Dr. Phaedrus’s small, round ear.

“You were going to see the Doctor just now weren’t you?” It took a moment to register her words, but once he did, he pulled himself back. She was watching him very closely and his reaction made her nod hysterically.

“I heard you on the phone with /him/ yesterday.” She ran her fingers through her sensitive antennae. “I thought about it seriously. I don’t think that you should go and meet that doctor on the phone. Your meeting will go terribly wrong… I just know it. There are conspiracies surrounding you Dr. Wolf.” For a moment she waited for him to say something, but the ermine was statuesque with his fists heavy at his sides, his gaze as empty as if he might have been clubbed from behind.

“I know you can’t say anything about it. You’re a professional.” Oba was making his amiable way towards them in graceful strides. Brune looked over her shoulder and smiled at him before turning back with more urgency.

“I’m going to continue my research. There have been a lot of things on my mind lately, but your case is proving to be connected to the others. Here…” from a little pocket on her sun dress she procured a tiny figurine made of cloth and twine, something akin to a voodoo doll. Its massive head was large in comparison to its half-inch body, with little lopsided dots for eyes and an upside-down ‘V’ for a mouth, and even a little black-tipped tail. Drawn across its forehead was the name “Dr. Wolf.”

The whole thing could easily fit in the palm of the ermines hand, as he discovered when Brune forced his fingers open for him to take it. The ermine wasn’t able to procure a simple “splendidnowwhaexactlytdoyoucallthiscontraption” before Brune was shoveling an explanation into his mouth-

“I made it in crafts. It’s a little version of you. No one can mess with you if you know exactly where you are. So, remember to keep it with you always! Don’t ever give it away… to anyone.” With this she turned back to her therapist, who was looked very inquisitive and tried to catch Dr. Phaedrus’s gaze before Brune started twirling and swishing around in the room in tempo to the music from the CD player, with little flecks of wing scales fluttering off of her like golden dust. Dr. Phaedrus turned without delay an departed, shiny shoes clicking on the linoleum with far more raucousness than necessary.

To heed Brune’s logic was an absurd notion of course, but he was rather unsettled by the fact that she’d overheard his conversation on the phone. He was well aware of her sensitivity to acoustics (so was the rest of the staff). One could not tell a secret within 30 feet of her. It was always ensured that Brune was quartered away from patients that had problems with moaning or masturbating at night. Yet, it was hard to judge if what the moth was actually hearing were things that were going on halfway across the building, or if the noises where actually occurring in her own head.

That was the first time she had ever mentioned of eavesdropping on phone conversations.

He startled himself upon realizing that he had almost walked straight into someone very tall and green. It was only after he had put himself in reverse to shuffle his way on by that he realized who it was looming in front of him like an oversized mop.

His mouth dropped open at the sight–first in shock, then in confusion. He reconized the neon-cat that was being escorted from the events of last night when he had suffered a seizure from drug withdrawls. He seemed fine now, reeking from the showers. Yet, it looked as though he had been spattered from head to toe in reddish grime. Only his clothes where moderately clean, where his wet fur was not already soaking through the material. It was rather startling, if his clothes had been spattered as well he would have thought that the man had been splashing around in blood.

“What on earth happened?”

“The main shower pipe just broke,” said the husky guard, who possessed a rather bright blue tongue.

“Yeah, the showers started to spew red water every where. The room is a total mess right now! And a lot of upset patients to boot.”

“This one here was really calm as a matter of fact,” said the other guard, a muscular, ebony feline with a pair of antennae growths projecting from his head. “we where informed of the trouble he’s been causing so we got him out of there first. Yet, he almost seems ok to be walking by himself doesn’t he?”

Dr. Phaedrus raised his eyebrows at Nox, deeming him unfit to be roaming about out of his room /at all/. Nox was gazing down at him unflinchingly, his dark- frizzled hair looking like a black, thorny halo. Since he’d never stood toe-to-toe with him, Dr. Phaedrus never quite realized how tall this particular patient was. His shadow, in fact, eclipsed the ermine completely, he took a step back.

“What have you got there in your hand there doc?” asked Nox. Dr. Phaedrus became aware of how tightly he had been clasping the “thing” that Brune had given him. He opened his hand, and the miniature “him” stared up at the group with unkind sharpied eyes and a frown that perfectly matched the real one on his counterparts face. Nox was looking at the name scrawled on its forehead.

“Hey. You’re… Dr. Wolf … aren’t you?” Nox’s long, pointed ears were hiked as he looked at this man with new recognition. He studied the doctor’s befogged face for a moment before he thrummed in a low voice.

“Someone’s got it in for you Dr. Wolf. Don’t go running off and doing something stupid, ok?” Dr. Phaedrus managed a slight nod of his head in acknowledgement before the crazy parade shuffled on in the direction he had just come from. He watched them go with a molten gut feeling as he caught the exchange of gossiping gestures between the guards. Brune was right; he WAS surrounded by conspiracies. With a little snort he pocketed the “doll thing” in his pocket.

When he continued towards the level that he had been whispered by that crackly voice, he found his steps becoming heavier and heavier. An unnatural paranoia gripped him when he was halfway up the stairs to his destination, to honor the promised rendezvouz with the Doctor. Promised? Oh don’t be preposterous now.

He stopped and turned around.

“I make promises to no one,” he hissed silkily, startling the passing nurses to skirted around him.

Perhaps he could make better use of himself by actually calming down some patients after their traumatizing time in the shower.

Jaciam gasped and jerked her hand sideways over her fresh canvas. She had been sketching and painting for the last several hours, but the metal tip of a calligraphy pen had somehow scraped the skin of her hand, ripping open the tentatively closed wound in a splash of dark red. Scarlet dotted her new painting, and Jaciam cursed out loud in a moment of furious temper for her carelessness. A frisson of sharp pain jolted across the furred skin pulled tight over the curve and valley of her knuckle, darting like a feral arch of icy lightning down the length of her wrist, dissipating somewhere around her elbow.

She groaned in frustration, eying her mixed media painting. At first she thought the drips of blood that steadily slipped from her fingers had ruined the artwork on which she had spent her entire dissociative haze of an afternoon, but the more she studied it, the more she decided that the effect didn’t completely ruin the picture.

As she examined the picture, Jaciam snatched her discarded bandages and pressed it to her bleeding hand. Her eyes pinned curiously. She didn’t remember actually having drawn what was scrawled across the canvas. There was a gaping hole of black in the middle of the piece, the edges nearly reaching the border of the canvas. She could not remember having ever made such a vivid, glistening black color. There was a whispering unbidden noise/voice in her head, like a knife being sharpened on rock (it is black the color of shame)

At one corner of the picture, there was a feline with eyes as dark as coal attempting to leap from the sucking confines of the gaping black hole. It was impossible to tell if there was any color to it, as Jaciam’s terrible eyesight rendered it into blotchy splashes of grey and black rubble. The creature seemed as if it were an afterthought to the main subject of the piece. Jaciam wondered why her subconscious, or whatever had drawn the picture, had chosen to make a black hole the subject of an art piece.

There was a scuffling noise and several shouts outside Jaciam’s room, and she turned around in her bed, broken out of her reverie. Setting the canvas aside, she stood and limped towards the door (only realizing in that moment that she had lost blood circulation in her legs, which now buzzed with stabbing needles).

Slipping her head out of the door in time to see an orderly run down the corridor outside her room at full speed, Jaciam watched him with interest. The floor was slick with fluid that was a sickly, glistening grey to Jaciam, forming puddles that gave the linoleum contour of paw prints of various shapes.

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~ by komicks on February 27, 2011.

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