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Devoured

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(Dr. Gold’s office)…

“How do you know this man is a threat if you can’t recall his face, Sarah?”

The woman shrugs—she’s sitting on the proverbial couch at her psychiatrist’s office, focusing on the pleasant Monet replica sitting on the wall. “I don’t know,” she says slowly, a flush on her face as she knows she sounds ridiculous. “I just know that I have to keep myself safe from him.”

Dr. Gold adjusts her glasses before going over her notes. “Have you experienced any panic attacks lately?”

She shakes her head. “No…not like I used to. But I can feel it beginning to claw at my mind.” She pauses, trying to formulate her words. “The cycle always repeats itself. Just when I think I’m over this…fear…I start feeling like someone’s watching me. And then the dreams start…”

“Have you considered lessening your workload?”

She stops herself from rolling her eyes. “Work is the one thing that keeps me sane.”

Dr. Gold decides to let that go. “How about your personal life, are you in a relationship? I don’t want to sound clichéd, but your dreams may be due to the lack of intimacy.”

“I have no time for a relationship, Dr. Gold. And I don’t exactly lack intimacy, you know that.”

A deep sigh. “Sexual activity isn’t equivalent to intimacy, Sarah. Perhaps what you desire is a truly intimate relationship.”

She shakes her head vehemently. “Those dreams aren’t about intimacy, they’re about…” control. She doesn’t say that part out loud. “They make me feel so weak.”

“Sarah,” Dr. Gold says with an encouraging smile. “You’ve been seeing me for a few months—from your flies, I know that you’ve been in therapy for the last eight years—for severe anxiety, panic attacks, and delusions. I believe you had to be homeschooled after,” she flips through her notes, “fifteen. Yet you managed to graduate summa cum laude from,” she flips through her notes again, “Northwestern. While fighting severe anxiety and panic attacks—your notes say you were hospitalized twice for delusions.”

She shrugs. “So?”

“You held internships every summer and you secured a position before you graduated, in an industry that’s dying. Weak isn’t a word anyone would use to describe you.”

She smiles at that—he most certainly would—just as she thinks this, she feels a sudden chill in the air.

- Precious creature-

She almost jumps. “He’s here.”

Dr. Gold sits up, taking note of the fear, no blatant terror in her patient’s eyes. “You must put a name and face to this stranger, Sarah—who is he?”

Closing her eyes, she tries her hardest to remember, only to come up blank. “I don’t know,” she says with a sob. She repeats her internal mantra while clenching her fists – this isn’t real, this isn’t real, this isn’t real…

- Still in denial, I see-

“Then what does he want?”

Sarah opens her eyes – the chill disappears as quickly as it had arrived – she knows what he wants, and that’s what scares her the most. “Me.”

“Let’s change the subject—I want to cover some more things before our time runs out. Have you been eating well?”

Taking in a deep breath, she shakes her head. “He…his dreams…affect me.” She sees a vision of a rotten peach and almost gags.

“How so?”

“I feel like he’s done something to me. Fed me something so I cannot eat regular food.”

“Your notes state you’ve been diagnosed with ED-NOS since you were seventeen,” the doctor says, frowning. ED-NOS is such a broad diagnosis, it does not give her much to go on. “Why were you not hospitalized when your BMI dropped to 15?”

Sarah laughs at that. “That’s because the insurance company refused to hospitalize me for ED-NOS. Apparently you can only be a delusional psycho or a malnutritioned psycho. You can’t be both.”

“Sarah, you know better than to use psycho with such a negative connotation.”

She smiles. “Yes.”

“You’ve asked to be put on an anti-psychotic again…” the doctor pulls out her prescription pad. “I’m going to give you a very, very mild dose of clozapine. You can take it along with your regular pills in the morning.” She scribbles some more, “I am also going to give you Xanax in case you have panic attacks—you cannot drive or operate-”

“I know the side effects of Xanax,” Sarah interrupts. “Serial patient here.” She smooths her skirt, getting ready to leave—she understands that doctors bring up prescriptions at the very end of each session.

“One more thing, Sarah,” Dr. Gold says, her eyes fixed on the crimson thread around her patient’s wrist. “Why do you feel that gives you protection from this man?”

“I don’t know,” Sarah mumbles, she actually doesn’t. “My roommate in college suggested I wear this…and my delusions became a lot…tamer.” They had—he’d been able to touch her before, but with the thread, he could only touch her in her dreams.

Dr. Gold isn’t satisfied with the answer. “The red thread is seen as a sign of protection in certain cultures. However, I take it that you don’t belong to any of them?”

Sarah grins. “Nope. I was raised in a somewhat Episcopalian but actually atheist household.” Which is true enough—her father’s a law professor and her step mother’s a philosophy professor. Organized religion hadn’t come into play growing up, and Christmas usually meant shopping and presents. 

“Then what makes you believe a simple bracelet fashioned out of thread will help protect you?”

“I really don’t know,” Sarah says, shrugging again. “My roommate suggested it, and it worked—that’s all that matters. It reminds me of Little Red Riding Hood.”

The doctor raises her brows. “Really?”

“Her red cape keeps her protected—she’s in danger the minute she takes it off.”

--

Frowning, Dr. Gold, looks over her notes again—she’s never had a patient quite like Sarah Williams. The girl had grown up in a small, but fairly wealthy, village in upstate New York, quite close to the city. She seemed to have coped with her parents’ divorce decently. And while she had behaved obnoxiously when her father remarried, it wasn’t in the range of abnormal behavior—not for a teenager.

Going by her notes, Sarah Williams had been perfectly normal until her fifteenth birthday—when she started experiencing panic attacks, which sometimes led to full blown delusions. She’d been on a variety of anti-anxiety medications along with the occasional anti-psychotic pill thrown into the cocktail, but none seemed to have worked on a permanent basis.

What Dr. Gold finds most surprising is that Sarah Williams is extremely functional—most patients with such severe problems tended to suffer academically and professionally. Sarah had excelled in both fields. Gathering all of her files, Dr. Gold, decides to go over them meticulously once more. Perhaps she has missed something important.

--

(Sarah’s apartment)…

Sarah stretches in her too-small desk chair, eyeing the clock before sending her article to her editor. Dr. Gold is correct—she has miraculously found a full-time position in a dying industry. But that also means she has to work around the clock if she wants to move ahead. Hell, if she wants to keep her job.

She sighs—journalism sure isn’t what she thought it would be. She cannot wait to gain more experience and be given serious topics instead of silly things like ‘the world’s biggest cookie’ or ‘the cutest dog show.’

Just as she’s about to head to bed, her phone rings—‘Nana’ flashes on her phone. “Hey Nana, what’re you doing up so late, should I be worried?”

The male voice on the other end is unclear, but it is most definitely not her grandmother. “Ms. Williams?”

Standing up abruptly, she replies, “Who’s this?”

The connection is very static, but she can still hear him. “I’m Dr.-” she doesn’t quite catch his name. “…an accident.”

“Is nana…Mrs. Milner alright?” She pauses, hearing only static in the background. “I cannot hear you.”

“…message…” that’s all she hears from the other end before the connection ends.

Sarah frantically tries calling her grandmother’s number only to get a strange, pre-recorded, message saying the ‘phone is out of network.’ Just as she’s about to call her dad, she receives a text message.

Ms. Williams, this is Dr. Jansen. Your grandmother has had an accident. I called as you are the only listed family member she has. There are arrangements to be made. I apologize to be the bearer of such bad news, but it cannot be helped. Sincerely, Dr. J.

What, in the world. She dials her grandmother’s number again—miraculously, it goes through. “Dr. Jansen?”

“Hello, yes, Ms. Williams. I trust you received my message.” His voice is much clearer now.

“Yes, I did. What happened? Is she alright?” Her voice goes soft towards the end—she already knows the answer to her second question.

There’s a deep sigh on the other end. “Your grandmother fell down the stairs, Ms. Williams—she was able to call 911 right before she lost consciousness. She was rushed to the hospital…but,” he pauses. “It’s better of speak in person, Ms. Williams.”

She clutches the phone with both her hands—she’d known such an accident was probable. Her grandmother lived in a century old mansion that required more than a few repairs. She’d absolutely refused to move to a smaller, more accessible place. “I can drive down tomorrow.”

“I’m afraid your grandmother may not have till then.”

She sits down, her legs shaky. “I should be there in a few hours. What hospital is she in?” Not that there’s much of a choice where her grandmother lives—still, there are two major hospitals nearby and she needs to know which one.

There’s a pause at the other end. “She’s not in the hospital, Ms. Williams—her…living will clearly states that she wishes to pass on in her own house rather than a sterile hospital room. I shall keep her company until you arrive.”

Swallowing a lump, as tears threaten to fall down her face, Sarah takes a few deep breaths. “Thank you. I’ll be there as fast as I can.”

She stares at her phone for a few moments before gearing up into action—she packs a small suitcase and dresses for the journey. Deciding that she’d rather not risk disturbing her dad and Karen in the middle of the night, she writes him an email—alerting him that she’ll be driving to Spearhead Harbor, technically, 30 miles north of Spearhead Harbor.

--

(Sarah’s grandmother’s house)…

By the time she reaches the old mansion, it’s 2 in the morning—she had to drive extra slowly due to sudden, torrential rainfall. Pulling up on the driveway, she’s surprised not to see any car parked out front. Wondering if she’s arrived too late, she makes a dash for the front door, yelping as the cold rain drenches her clothing.

“Dr. Jansen,” she calls, knocking loudly, frowning as she sees the paint chip off the wooden doors. The place looks much worse than she’d imagined it would—the ivy growing over the redbrick walls seems to have grown out of control, making the house look like it is covered with unruly leaves. The window shutters, like the front doors, have suffered heavy water damage. The walls have significant cracks, and the chimney seems to have collapsed. She feels guilty, perhaps she should have visited her grandmother more often.

“Dr. Jansen,” she calls again, banging on the door. Her woolen coat is absolutely drenched as are her sneakers. She will get frostbite, or worse, hypothermia, if she stands out on the porch any longer. Sighing with relief as she hears footsteps approach the door, she tries getting her teeth to stop chattering.

The door opens with a loud creak—“Ms. Williams.”

She frowns. That’s not Dr. Jansen’s voice—she can only see the silhouette of a tall man, his face remains hidden by shadows. “You’re not Dr. Jansen.” She stands frozen on the doorway—there’s a small voice in her head that tells her to be wary.

“I insist you come inside, Ms. Williams, or you’ll catch your death.” His words are serious, but his tone is light and teasing. “We don’t want that, do we?”

Her heart thuds in her chest and blood roars in her ears. Calm down, calm down, she whispers in her mind, don’t get a panic attack now. Placing a shaky hand in her pocket, she takes out the Xanax bottle, and places a small white pill under her tongue.

“Ms. Williams.” The man moves closer to the door, and she sees the moonlight bounce off the harsh lines of his face.

“You’re not Dr. Jansen,” she repeats, her eyes widening with every step he takes. There’s something familiar about him, but she’s sure she has never seen him before.

“No,” the man agrees. “I’m Dr. Varg—there was a positive change in your grandmother’s condition, so Jansen took her to the hospital and asked me to wait for you as he couldn’t get through to your phone. Please come in, Ms. Williams, I do not want your health…compromised.” There’s a touch of concern in his voice, but the overall tone is commanding.

Refusing to budge, she stands there, trembling with the cold and something else, and pulls out her phone. The damn thing won’t start—“It’s dead,” she says, stupidly almost.

“IPhone, is it? I have a charger inside.”

Picking up her suitcase, she walks into the house—almost jumping as the door shuts behind her brusquely. She glances around the foyer warily—Dr. Varg seems to have disappeared. She could have sworn he-

“You look like a half-drowned kitten, Ms. Williams.”

“Dr. Varg? Could you tell me what happened, please.” She frowns—his face remains hidden. “The light switches are…” she fumbles with the switch, surprised when the lights do not turn on.

“Power outage,” he says, suddenly close. “There were some heavy winds because of the storm—cables have been severed it seems.”

Her heart catches in her throat—the small hairs on her neck and upper arms stand up. A violent shiver travels up her spine.

“Step out of your clothes, Ms. Williams.” Just like that, he’s not so close anymore.

“Excuse me?” she questions, bewildered.

Dr. Varg laughs, his deep voice resonating off the half-crumbling walls of the old mansion. “You will most certainly catch pneumonia, Ms. Williams. I insist you take a hot shower and change into warm clothes.”

“Not until you tell me what happened.” Her voice comes out rough—she’s driven almost four hours after being told her grandmother’s dying. She’s not going to be patronized by the likes of him.

There’s a sound of something being scratched against a rough surface, and a spark of light—Dr. Varg holds a matchstick in his hands and lights a candle that seems to have appeared out of thin air.

“Do I…know you?” She parts her lips as she stares at him—as if she’s mesmerized. The lines of his face are angled harshly…yet, there’s a strange beauty to his sharp features. Her heart twinges with a sudden surge of emotion.

A close lipped smile. “No. You do not.” He walks over to her and hands her the candle, his fingers almost touching hers. “Please change into warm clothes, Ms. Williams. We’ll head to the hospital once the storm ceases.”

She cannot look away—almost hypnotized by his eyes. One’s iridescently blue…the other is so dark, it’s almost black. Noting a small smirk grace his lips, she flushes with embarrassment. She’s not the kind of woman who checks out men when her grandmother is in the hospital, presumably fighting for her life. Still. There’s something about this man that draws her in.

“I take it you know your way around the house?” A hint of arrogance creeps into his voice—like he knows the exact effect he has on her.

Shaking herself, she replies unsteadily, “Of course. I’ll be upstairs.” She walks over to the grand staircase—wincing as she sees its state—the carpet is torn and the wood is chipped, no wonder nana slipped. She feels a sudden rush of guilt again, a stronger rush this time. She should have visited more often.

“I’ll wait here, Ms. Williams.”

Turning back, she holds his gaze. “Sarah,” she says, “Ms. Williams makes me feel…” well, it makes her feel like he has some sort of authority over her. “…Old,” she lies.

He grins, baring his teeth. “Very well. I shall wait for you here, Sa-rah.” His tone makes the sentence sound vaguely like a threat.

Her heart thuds in her ears. What is with those teeth, she wonders. Without saying another word, she heads up the stairs and to the guest bedroom she generally uses.

--

He watches her climb up the staircase, the sinister smile never leaving his face. This time, Sarah, he thinks, eyes glittering in the darkness, I shall win.

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