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Am I the monster?

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Faceless men in white coats. They were the only thing Amélie could see. She tried to sit up, but was stopped by straps around her limbs, effectively pinning her to the metal table. She thrashed around in her bindings only to find they were too tight for her to move; she was the stuck. The tiny, tell-tale pinpricks of needles and the accompanying burning sensation of drugs flowing through her veins made her vision swim and the room spin uncontrollably.

A piercing scream tore Amélie from her terrifying nightmare. She was drenched in a cold sweat, and small whimpers still fell from her lips. Frantically, she looked around her cluttered room, trying to find anything to anchor her to reality and stop her from being dragged back into jarring visions of unknown scientists and flashing lights. Eventually her eyes fell on the still form of her sleeping husband, Gérard. As she watched the gentle rise and fall of his chest, she felt her heartbeat slow and felt herself starting to relax. Her mind startled her out of her relaxed state just as she was about to slip back into a restless slumber plagued by nightmares. On shaking legs Amélie climbed out of bed and crossed the room with all the grace of a new-born gazelle.  

Finishing a bottle of wine after a particularly bad nightmare must have become a habit by this point, because the next thing Amélie knew she was perched on the arm of the couch draining the last few drops of red liquid from a glass bottle. She couldn’t exactly place when the nightmares had started, all she knew was she hadn’t gotten any more than a few hours of sleep a night before her own screaming woke her up, for months and she couldn’t figure out why.

“Amélie?”

The unexpected voiced laced with concern made her jump. A crash echoed throughout the small apartment as the wine glass slipped from Amélie’s hand, shattering against the wooden floorboards.

“Sorry" was the only she could think to reply as she knelt down to pick shards of shattered glass off the cold floor. A warm hand wrapped gently around her wrist, halting her shaky movements.

“Amélie, breath”

Up until that point Amélie hadn’t been aware of her heaving chest or the burning sensation under her ribs. She gasped, frantically trying to suck in enough air to calm the raging fire in her lungs. The sound of blood pounding in her ears and her heart hammering out her chest was loud enough to drown out the distant rumble of Paris’s rush hour. The walls were towering over her and moving closer towards her. A rush of nausea swam through her body though she couldn’t move, her shaking limbs weren’t listening to her. Amélie screamed at herself to get up, to move, to go anywhere where she could breathe and the walls weren’t crushing her. Instead, she just drew her knees up to her chest and sat there, hyperventilating in a ball on her living room floor.

Amélie didn’t know if she’d spent 30 seconds curled up on the cold wooden floor, or 30 minutes, but before she could regain her composure and stand up, a familiar scent of pine and cinnamon engulfed her. A pair of strong arms wrapped around her shoulders pulling her gently against a warm body, overwhelming Amélie with an unexpected feeling safety and comfort. She buried her face in the crook of his neck and untangled her limbs enough to wrap them around her husband. Before she realized, the heart-wrenching sobs falling from her lips were quickly becoming quieter until they were barely more than occasional whimpers.

Amélie could feel the gentle vibrations of his chest as he spoke for the first time in what felt like hours, but had probably only minutes.

“You okay?”

 Automatically Amélie started to nod and push away from her husband’s protective embrace, her head started to pound at the sudden movement, as if to protest at her obvious lie. She decided there was no point lying anymore, there was no way Gérard would believe she was okay after her unexpected panic attack, instead she shook her head, the movement barely noticeable, but it was there.

“Nightmares” she whispered gazing at the floor, he said nothing, he knew she would elaborate in her own time.

Amélie may not have had any idea when her nightmares started, but Gérard did. The terrified look on Amélie’s face when they found her wandering the streets of Paris at four in the morning was permanently burned into the back of his mind. No-one knew what happened that night, not even Amélie, the only thing Gérard knew was that since that night, he had never woken up beside his wife.

The ringtone of somebody’s phone from another room forced Gérard to get up, which was probably a good idea as he had already started to lose feeling in his legs.

“I'm coming, I’m coming” Gérard shouted at the screaming phone, causing Amélie to giggle, she had always found his frustration towards lifeless objects amusing, but there was something different about it this time, Amélie hadn’t sounded as happy and carefree as that since before she went missing. Gérard smiled at this, maybe they would be okay in the end.

Reaching the bedroom Gérard glanced at the phone and didn’t recognize the number that flashed on the screen, he answered it anyway hoping he would be able to shout at some cold callers.

“Hello?” Gérard said already starting to get agitated at whoever decided to call at four in the morning.

“Ah hello Mr Lacroix”

It wasn’t the scratchy voice of a cold caller that expecting, no instead it was a strangely chilling voice that somehow made Gérard want to slam the phone down yet at the same time find out who they were and what they wanted.

“who is this?”

“Nobody important. I was wondering if I could speak with your wife”

As if they could sense Gérard's wariness through the phone, they kept talking.

“It a business matter of course, I’m sorry if this is an inconvenient time, but it really is urgent Mr Lacroix”

“Yes of course, give me one minute”

Gérard held the phone to his shoulder and padded through the dark hallway, back to where Amélie was curled up on the couch.

“Its work” Gérard mouthed silently as he handed the phone to his wife.

Amélie furrowed her brows in confusion, since when did she get phone calls from work that early? She took the phone none the less thanking her husband with a silent smile.

Gérard left the room, leaving Amélie to her call.

“Hello?” she asked puzzled

“Ms Lacroix, how nice it is for us to talk again” the voice on the other side of the phone drawled out ominously.

This only added to Amélie’s confusion, she recognized the voice, but she couldn’t place where from.

“I'm sorry, have we spoken before?”

“I can’t say I’m surprised you don’t recognize me, that was the whole point anyway. Although it does hurt a little bit to know you forgot me so easily”

“Who are you?” Fear and panic had slipped into Amélie’s voice, and the nameless voice on the phone noticed it easily.

“Although it is nice to know you’re still scared of me, even if you can’t remember why, little swan"

Hearing that nickname sent chills down Amélie’s spine. No-one ever called her that, she was sure, yet it still managed to make her heart skip a beat. Little swan. It echoed through her brain until something clicked. Amélie wasn’t sure what clicked, but the distinctive voice and the peculiar nickname triggered an onslaught of memories that had been locked away, hidden somewhere even Amélie couldn’t find.

Memories of faceless men in white coats, although this time the men had faces, and voices, and she could feel every needle and knife like it was real, not just some unexplainable nightmare. Memories of flashing images and complete silence. Memories of words, specific words that she still couldn’t quite remember.

“I see you remember now" the voice on the phone distracting her from the flood of visions that would haunt her dreams for years to come.

Although this time the voice wasn’t nameless. Amélie could remember everything about it, everything from the angular features on its face, to the sound of its footsteps echoing down a concrete corridor (A sound Amélie learned to fear very quickly)

“Then I guess we can begin” it said with a smirk Amélie could hear over the phone. “dependence, radiation...”

As soon as the first few words had entered her ear, she could already feel herself start to lose control of her own mind.

“s-stop, no, please" Amélie stuttered, she tried to drop the phone and cover her ears but she couldn’t.

“information, twenty-five, Bahrain...” they continued, ignoring Amélie’s pleas to stop.

It felt like her brain was being drilled into and parts of her were being stolen right before her eyes, memories of her and Gérard were replaced with images of him paired with phrases such as target and threat.

“Daybreak, light, blackbird”

As soon as the last word was uttered, Amélie blacked out, only for a second. When she awoke, she was no longer Amélie, she was a stranger with Amélie’s face but none of her memories.

“Are you ready to comply?”

“Affirmative” Amélie replied without hesitation

“Do you remember your mission?”

“yes.”

The line went dead and Amélie stood up. She darted into the bedroom, hoping Gérard wasn’t there waiting for her, the noise of the shower told Amélie she had enough time to figure out where her husband kept his gun before he found her. Desperately rummaging around drawers and throwing open cupboard doors very quickly made the floor barely visible under heaps of clothes and old photos, photos that Amélie would have previously sat and studied, now they were tossed to the other side of the room like they were old Christmas cards. Amélie stood violently, it wasn’t here, she knew he kept a gun somewhere. Quickly glancing around the room, she spotted something she had previously missed, a floorboard that happened to sit at a slightly different angle to the rest. She pried up the uneven floorboard and sure enough, there was a locked money box sitting, collecting dust under the floor. The lock was broken with ease, Gérard obviously wasn’t planning on someone breaking into his house to steal a gun.

“Amélie?”

She cursed under her breath, how did she not notice the shower stopping or the bedroom door opening. Without replying Amélie spun around, swiftly aiming the gun between her husband’s eyebrows, she could see his eyes widen in fear as she pulled the trigger.

Click.

Of course, she forgot to check if the gun was actually loaded. Gérard stared at his wife in shock for a few seconds before turning and bolting out the room. He couldn’t figure out why Amélie was trying to kill him, it hadn’t even been an hour since he was holding her shaking form against his on the cold wooden floors after her nightmare.

Loading the gun and checking the safety was off, Amélie stalked silently out of the room, she stuck to the shadows of her house hoping to take Gérard by surprise. She did. Gérard was busy frantically trying to find the front door keys, he didn’t hear his wife enter the hallway or sneak up behind him, but the cold barrel of the gun pressed up against his back alerted him of her presence pretty quickly.

“Amélie?” Gérard choked out

Gérard looked up into the mirror in front of him and watched Amélie’s eyes linger on the back of his head before glaring at him in the mirror. He froze when she caught his eye. They say the eyes are the window to the soul, and Gérard always believed that, at least with Amélie. Her eyes had always given away every emotion she was feeling, she could easily trick others into believing whatever she had shown them, but Gérard knew how to read her like an open book. Now her eyes were dull, empty, void of the usual sparkle they always had when she was happy.

Gérard tried once more before she killed him in his own hallway.

“Amélie, please, I know you’re still in there. I don’t know what happened to you, but I know we can fix it.”

Amélie’s brows furrowed ever so slightly, she felt something at Gérard s's words, though she couldn’t place what.

No, she was supposed to kill Gérard, not stand listening to him talk about love in a dimly lit hallway. But somehow, she just couldn’t bring herself to pull the trigger. The gun wobbled slightly in Amélie’s shaking hand, reminding her that the cold weight wasn’t a just a model, but a weapon capable of so much pain. "Amélie, please listen to me, I know you're in there. Remember, please, remember when you first met me when you got lost outside the Tarried Palace, and I got my new suit covered in mud when I tripped over the flower beds trying to impress you" Gérard says trying to choke out a laugh "Remember London, when I tried to propose and dropped the ring in the Thames? remember our wedding and out first dance when I kept stepping on your toes and you teased, for being so clumsy? Remember Amélie, please remember me, remember us" Gérard pleaded helplessly.

She lowered the gun as she started to remember. Everything Gérard had said was painfully familiar. The dirty suit, the nervous stuttering on the riverbank and the nostalgic sound of Tchaikovsky as her husband tripped over his own feet. Amélie was remembering, and that terrified her.

Amélie’s eyes snapped up to study Gérard’s expression, all traces of his previous concern had vanished. he tried to mask his fear with a look of relief and sincerity, but terror was still evident in his wide eyes, and his quivering lip.

"No" Amélie’s voice was barely louder than a whisper, yet it managed to stop everything.

"What?"

"No. You're lying"

"I'm not, I swear Amélie, you're remembering the truth. I love you, I always have, I would never lie to you"

Amélie’s grasp on the gun loosened even further, by this point it would have been mere seconds until its own weight made it slip from Amélie’s shaking hand. Gérard must have noticed the gun slipping from Amélie’s grip, because he tried to reach for it. Unfortunately for Gérard Amélie had faster reactions than him, because before he could even touch the gun a gunshot echoed through the apartment

The silence was deafening as both people tried to realise what had happened. Gérard raised a hand to a dull ache in his stomach, and gasped when he felt a warm liquid under his fingers

No longer trusting his legs to keep him upright he stumbled backwards, his hands searching blindly for anything that would stop him from collapsing in the middle of the hallway. He found the wall and slumped backwards against it looking down at his stomach, his previously white shirt now becoming a sickening scarlet colour. A look of disbelief was plastered onto his paling face.

"Amélie?" he managed to choke out before his knees gave out and he slumped down the wall onto the floor, his blood slowly seeping onto the ground.

Amélie stared at Gérard, mirroring his expression of disbelief. There was a clatter of metal hitting wood as the gun finally slipped from Amélie's white-knuckled grip, her knees hit the floorboards hard enough to leave bruises as she sank to the ground beside her dying husband. As blood started to pool like wine around Gérard’s body the shock started to fade away and Amelie found that her mind was empty, there was nothing, no guilt or regret, no memories, no voice echoing in the back of her head begging her not to pull the trigger.

"I'm sorry" she whispered, before standing up and stumbling towards the front door.

She made it to the doorway before hearing Gerard’s voice again, Quieter than before.

"Amélie..."

She froze, her hand resting on the doorknob.

"I don't want to die alone" he mumbled in a voice that made Amelie want to run back, to him and apologise for everything.

Instead, she glanced back over her shoulder and met Gerard's. pleading eyes one last time, before slipping out the door into the cold shadows of Paris.

She kept running away from the memories of that night, and from the man she had once loved.