(Sarah’s grandmother’s house)…
She slips on her signature, non-work outfit—skinny jeans paired with an oversized sweater and shallow boots. Drying her wet hair with her chargeable, travel hair dryer, she frowns when she cannot squash the uncomfortable feeling that something’s wrong. A little nabbing feeling in the back of her mind, that things are not what they seem. Dr. Varg seems to be doing who knows what downstairs—she can hear him move about, courtesy the old fashioned heating vents of the house. She shivers…technically, he could be a deranged lunatic for all she knows.
Taking a few deep breaths, she tries calming down—surely, if he were a crazed lunatic, he would have attacked her in the shower? Or the second she entered the house as there wasn’t a single living soul around for miles? Or even when her back was turned as she climbed up the staircase?
She grits her teeth and counts to ten—a self-calming technique, as Dr. Gold would say—it’s just her paranoia acting up. At that moment, the heating vent creates a low creaking sound and she jumps like a startled cat.
Christ! – Get a grip, Williams – she chides herself, quickly running a comb through her semi damp hair and tying it in a knot.
“Dr. Varg,” she calls as she descends down the staircase into the main foyer, now lit by a strangely wavering light—which she realizes is coming from the main living area. She frowns. He must have lit a fire in the grand fireplace. But how? She knows, for a fact, that the fireplace hasn’t been utilized at all in the last decade. And she’s seen that the main chimney has collapsed. “Dr. Varg,” she calls again, louder this time, her footsteps soft on the hardwood floor.
She enters the main living area, only to find it empty. The sound of smell of burning wood fills the air and ominous shadows dance across the walls as the fire cackles. Her frown deepens—yet, there isn’t any smoke. Just how-
Whirling around, she sees him at the archway that leads to the living area, a steaming bowl in his hands. Shivering, she wonders just how he’s able to move so quietly. “What’s that?” she asks, her heart thudding in her ears.
He looks at her for a few moments, a slight twitch to his lips—as if he’s absolutely savoring her discomfort. “Some warm nourishment for you,” he says, walking towards the fire where she stands. “Don’t look so petrified, Sarah—it’s only soup.”
She stands there—frozen to the spot even though her brain is telling her to flee. Something’s not right…doesn’t feel right. Has he been cooking in her nana’s kitchen? Somehow, she doubts it. Walking towards her in a charcoal gray suit, Dr. Varg doesn’t look like the type to cook. In fact, he doesn’t even look like a doctor. “I’m not hungry”—the words are easy to come up with—it’s what she says when anyone offers her food.
A sharp toothed smile. “I insist you try some, my dear,” his voice is low and coaxing. “Jansen left you in my care and as I stated previously, I do not want your health compromised.” His lips twitch again, like he knows a secret that’s terribly amusing.
Taking the bowl from his hands, she winces—the image of the rotten peach automatically enters the forefront of her mind. “I can’t, I’m sorry,” she says—her throat spontaneously gagging.
“Come, come, Sarah,” he croons, stepping towards her—causing her to take a step back. “I can see you aren’t well. Do sit down.” He keeps invading her space until he has her backed onto the couch.
“Look,” she begins nervously—she sits down, but her back is straight—like she’s ready to bolt any second. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate what you’ve done for me. I, literally, have to force food down my throat and sometimes, it just comes back up. I’d rather not do that here…and now.” She sighs in relief as he sits on a different couch, across from her—giving back her personal space.
A raised brow. “You have a medical condition?”
She bites her lip, not noticing him widen his eyes as she does so. “No,” she answers, not sure how much she wants to share, “Not really. I just…”
“Yes?” There’s a hint of impatience in his voice.
“Every time I try eating, I see this image of a rotten peach and it makes me so nauseous,” she says, looking at the contents of the bowl in her hands. It looks like a clear broth of sorts – maybe I should just try it – she raises a spoon to her lips.
An amused glance. “That makes no sense.”
Her temper flares—“I know it doesn’t make sense, but that’s just how my life has been for the last eight years.”
“It’s only broth, Sarah—perhaps you should give it a try.”
Feeling too drained to argue, she takes a sip and waits for the sickness to kick in—eyes widening as she realizes that it doesn’t.
“There you are.” His eyes gleam with amusement.
Without being able to stop herself, she takes the bowl in her hands and drinks the hot soup in large gulps. It’s been years, eight years, since she’s been able to eat anything without feeling nauseous—her body’s response is to gorge as much as possible.
Deep laughter. “Nausea did not occur this time, I take it?”
A slow blush colors her cheeks and spreads down her neck. “I’m sorry,” she says, placing the now-empty bowl on a side table. She smiles sadly—nana would have been horrified at the sight of her only granddaughter eating like an animal. “I have a complicated…problem.”
He just sits there, looking at her intensely, without saying anything—the force of his gaze making her skin burn.
“Have you gotten in touch with Dr. Jansen?” she asks, feeling the need to disrupt the silence—and then she remembers something. Frowning, she says, “You said you had an iPhone charger…but how can I charge my phone if there’s no power?” She feels her pockets for her phone and gasps, remembering that she’s left it upstairs.
He doesn’t move a muscle—his eyes intent on her. “Must have slipped my mind.”
Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god—she can’t stop herself from trembling as her ears ring. She feels haunted—like she knows there’s something very wrong.
“Sarah, are you alright?”
My precious creature…all alone…
“No,” she whispers, wrapping her arms around herself—rocking her body back and forth. “This isn’t happening.”
Instead of reacting to her panic, he sits back on the armchair languidly. “What is it that’s not happening, Sarah?” There’s a mocking tone to his voice.
She looks up at him—eyes wide—a deer caught in the headlights. There’s a slight twist to his lips, like he’s smiling faintly. Her lips part—this time, she does notice how his eyes widen a bit. “I need to get my medication,” she says, abruptly standing up—she’s left that upstairs as well. Her head feels light and black dots swarm in front of her eyes. Dammit—I shouldn’t have stood up so fast.
“Allow me, Sarah. You don’t look like you can climb those treacherous steps at the moment. We do not want you to fall down like your grandmother, do we?” His tone is soothingly complacent, like he’s lightly admonishing a child.
“It’s only a head rush,” she mumbles—but she does sit back down. She stares at him disappear out of the archway only to come back seconds later with the orange prescription bottle.
“Here you are,” he gives her the bottle before sauntering back to his armchair and sinking down, his movements as graceful as a large, jungle cat.
“How did you…so quickly?” There’s a hitch in her voice—the gnawing feeling in her brain comes back full force. Something isn’t right.
A slow smile. “I must have been gone for a few minutes, Sarah—you’re mistaken.”
With shaky hands she presses the childproof lid and opens the bottle, taking out two tablets. “So have you gotten in touch with Dr. Jansen?” she asks again—realizing she never got an answer the first time around.
His smile widens. “No.” He gestures to the sweeping windows that are now shuttered. “The storm outside has, what is the word you use, killed cell reception. Now…I can’t help but notice your body language, Sarah. Are you afraid of me?” He asks as if he already knows the answer.
“N-n-no,” she stutters after staring at him for a few moments. But then she regains her composure. “I’m reacting like any normal person would after finding out that their grandmother has had an almost fatal accident—and rushing to her house to find a stranger there.”
There’s a flash of emotion in his eyes—reaching into his jacket, he pulls out an identity card. “I suppose, this will put you at ease,” his tone is soft, contradicting the intensity of his gaze. “Here,” he says, walking over to her and handing her the small, plastic object.
Sighing in relief—she lets out a breath that she didn’t even realize she was holding. His ID says that he is a visiting psychiatrist at Sacred Heart. So not a lunatic then, she thinks. “I’m sorry,” she apologizes, even though she doesn’t exactly know what she’s apologizing for, “I just…don’t know what to make of all this.”
He smiles a charming smile—one that disarms her. “I can understand,” his eyes turn dark as shadows bounce off his sharp features.
“Thank God,” she says with exaggerated relief. “I’m not usually so jumpy.”
His smile remains. “Do let me know if you think I’m overstepping my boundaries, Sarah,” he pauses for a few moments, “I am not your doctor…however, I did see you take three of those so far,” he indicates the Xanax bottle.
Knowing where this conversation is headed, she purses her lips—cautiously, she decides to let him continue. He is a psychiatrist…perhaps he can help? “I have generalized anxiety and I suffer from panic attacks sometimes, along with auditory hallucinations,” she summarizes—after years of going to various doctors, she’s able to condense her ‘condition’ into those ‘neat’ categories. Without consciously realizing it, she plays with the red thread around her wrist.
A graceful frown. “And you are getting an attack now?” There’s a trace of something akin to glee in his voice, but she doesn’t notice.
“I can feel it bubbling.”
“Is playing with that thread,” he says, indicating the bracelet with his long fingers, “a self-soothing habit of yours?”
She shakes her head ‘no.’ “I didn’t realize I was doing it,” she says—looking at the bracelet distractedly. It’s become old now, and has faded from bright crimson to a dull shade of red.
“Forgive me—and do stop me anytime if this makes you uncomfortable—but I am curious about your…rather unique condition, Sarah. Could I ask you some more questions?”
She stares at him, unable to speak.
-the fire cackles on as the silence stretches-
He sighs. “Forget it—you’re not my patient, and it’s not professional on my part to intervene.”
“No,” she says softly—she’s gone to so many doctors over the years, what’s one more? “You can ask me what you like,” her voice becomes bolder and her green eyes flash with determination. “I’ll answer everything honestly.”
“You don’t have to-”
“But only if you tell me exactly what you think,” she interrupts. “My doctors have never been completely honest with me and I want to know if there’s any hope that this…condition…is manageable permanently.”
The softest of smiles. “Of course, dear. I wouldn’t have it any other way.” He gestures to the massive sofa that’s adjacent to the couch, where she currently sits. “Would you be so kind to recline.”
She raises her brows. “I don’t think shrinks have actually asked patients to recline for decades.”
He chuckles. “You can say that I am…old fashioned.”
“How old fashioned? Burghölzli sanatoria during the Jungian ear or the hospital in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s’ Nest?” she jokes, even though she willingly obeys and reclines—just as he has asked.
“Neither, I’m afraid.” There’s a smile in his voice. “Close your eyes, Sa-rah.”
She complies as she hears him pull up an arm chair. “What next, Dr. Freud?”
Slow, rich laughter—she can hear him sit down and lean over. “The beginning. How did this start?”
At least his questions aren’t long winded. “I don’t remember how, but it was right after my fifteenth birthday. I remember fighting with my dad and Karen, his wife, about babysitting and then…” she drifts off. Something’s missing, something has always been missing from her memory of that night—her breathing quickens. “Then I remember feeling…dread. Fear. Completely paralyzing terror…”
“Anything more?” His eyes darken as they notice the rise and fall of her chest.
“There is a man.” She lowers her voice, “I feel like he’s out to…get me.”
“Get you, what does that mean?”
Blood creeps up her cheeks. “He wants me, body and soul.”
“You’re using euphemisms, Sarah. What do you mean?” His tone is sharp now—rebuking. Perhaps even condescending.
Her breathing hitches. “…I…” she cannot complete that thought.
A deep, irritated sigh. “I cannot help you if you’re not honest.” He sounds disappointed. “Let go of your inhibitions and just be,” his mercurial voice has regained its lilting, honeyed tone. “I am not going to judge you, Sarah—I am only here to listen. You’ll allow me the opportunity to help you, Sarah…won’t you?”
She nods, opening her mouth to speak. “He wants to fu… have sex with me,” she says, going red in the face when she realizes that she almost said ‘he wants to fuck me.’ Though it’d be true enough—both literally and figuratively.
“You said you were fifteen—your fantasy is in line with the changes that accompany puberty, don’t you think?”
“That’s exactly what the rest of the doctors said.” She’s almost upset—somehow, she had expected something different from him.
“Well, I think there’s more to it than simple hormonal changes,” he says softly. “I may have to ask questions that will make you uncomfortable, Sarah.”
She can hear the challenge in his voice. “Go ahead,” she says—her eyes still shut—she’s unable to see the serpentine smile on his face.
“What happened afterwards?”
“I started having these…hallucinations…” she shudders, remembering how terrified she had felt at fifteen.
“He’d speak to me sometimes and then he would touch me. I knew he wasn’t there and none if it was real, but I felt his touch.”
“I don’t quite understand, Sarah—what do you mean by touch?”
She swallows nervously, but continues. “At first it was innocent—he’d pull my hair or pinch my thighs. Then he started caressing my neck…my breasts…until he…” she shudders violently, with fear and something else. “He made me feel…”
“What did he make you feel, Sarah?” His voice softens—this puts her at ease.
“Desire,” she whispers. “He’d touch me in between my legs until I was soaked with need…and the worst part is that I-” she pauses, as if she’s admitting this for the first time. “I was addicted to his touch. It made me feel so depraved.”
“That couldn’t have been very easy while you were in school.”
“I just stopped going—had to be homeschooled.”
“You must have seen a doctor, what was his diagnosis?”
She reddens, this time with anger—recalling how patronizing her very first psychiatrist had been. “He thought I couldn’t come to terms with the fact that I was touching myself, and imagined a male figure instead.”
“How…Freudian of him,” he says, a smile in his voice. “This continued?”
“Until my freshman roommate gave me this after an unfortunate incident,” she replies, indicating her weathered red bracelet. “Then the touching stopped…he whispered, still whispers, things to me.”
“Does his voice sound familiar?”
She frowns. “No…I can never quite place his voice. And I can’t remember what he looks like.”
“What can you place about him?”
Her frown deepens and her body tenses. “That he’s dangerous.”
“Moving on,” he says, tone light—her frown disappears. “Your father and his wife, they did not repress you?”
She snorts. “Not in the least—they’re both college professors and fairly liberal about pretty much everything.”
“So not the religious type to stress the evils of sex?”
“Definitely not,” she says with a laugh—they were more of the ‘experience everything you can’ type.
“You said your roommate gave you the red thread after an incident. What was it?”
She bites her lower lip, heart thudding in her ears, blood creeping up her face. “It was embarrassing. I’d rather not-”
“Oh, Sarah,” his tone is gentle. “You’ve disclosed so much, surely you don’t think I’ll judge you.”
Sighing, she relents. “We shared one class, econ 103—so we were sitting in the lecture hall, one of those big ones that can fit more than 500 students…that’s when it started. He started touching me lightly through my clothes…” she gets lost in the heated memory, her flesh burning anew. “Then he started kissing me—it was the first time I felt his lips on my body,” she shudders.
“You must be thorough, Sarah—describe exactly what he did.”
“He kissed my neck, my breasts—his mouth was hot on my nipple…his fingers roughly stroked… my clit…” desire floods her body.
His eyes glitter as he sees her body flush with newly awoken lust. “Go on.”
“He made me come again, and again, and again until I passed out. I bit my lips so hard, to stop myself from moaning, that there was blood all over my face. My roommate suggested this,” she indicates her bracelet. “She is really flighty and new agey, so she believes in anything and everything—anyway, she suggested the crimson thread and it actually worked. He hasn’t touched me since.”
“Do you miss his touch?”
She opens her mouth to say no, but stops herself—she hasn’t really thought about the answer. “I don’t know—I still feel him in my dreams.”
“Describe those dreams for me.”
“I can’t describe each and every one—there’s something new every time. But it’s always about sex.” She laughs at the absurdity of her situation. “A girl I met in group therapy experienced similar dreams—but she was raised in a psychotically religious household and was really screwed up about sex. I just can’t understand why this is happening to someone like me.”
“I’m here to help you with that,” he reassures. “Now, how often do you have these dreams?”
She shrugs. “Once or twice a week.”
“How do you feel upon awakening?”
“Desperate,” her voice is breathless. “I wake up sodden with lust. My body’s sweaty and my thighs are wet.”
He leans into her, breathing in her scent. “What do you do upon awakening, Sarah?” There’s laughter in his crooning voice. He already knows what she does.
She shivers. “I touch myself…but…”
“But I am never satisfied.” There’s a deep seated hunger in her voice, “Not even when I…”
“When you what?” His eyes sharpen, he knows what’s coming next.
“I sleep with other men. Actual men, I mean.” She feels a heaviness in the air—loud thunder echoes in the sky, shaking the walls of the old mansion.
“Do not be alarmed,” he says, half laughing, half soothing. “It’s only the storm. Back to where we were—do you sleep with actual men often?”
“If you’re trying to classify my behavior as risky, then don’t bother.” She’s irritated, rightfully so. “I’m very responsible with protection.”
“Relax Sarah.” He laughs out loud. “I’m not trying to classify you as anything—merely wondering if there’s a pattern to the dreams and your behavior.”
“I’m not good with relationships…and I learned that the hard way.” She knows she has hurt a few people in the past, and she’s not proud of that. “And I don’t keep count of how many people I sleep with like some frat boy—but if I had to guess, I’d say one or two a month?”
He asks with perverse satisfaction, “And you’re never satisfied?”
“No. I’ve tried reenacting those dreams with actual men and it’s just not the same.”
His fury runs wild—another loud burst of thunder rocks the house.
“Jesus.” She sits up reflexively.
“I don’t recall telling you our session is over,” his voice is icy and his tone commanding. “Lie back down.”
For some reason, she does exactly as he asks, her body jolting as the thunder rumbles on.
“What do you make of the man in your dreams, Sarah?” Just like that, his voice is calm again.
Shivering, she replies, “He’s the man of my nightmares, not dreams. He’s powerful…and unforgiving.”
“I can’t explain…just that he wants to get me.”
“Let me make it easier—what do you believe he will do to you, if he ever does get you, that is? So far, the only thing he seems to do is gratify your sexual needs—surely, that’s not such a threatening premise?”
She frowns, mulling over his words. He’s right.
He continues, his voice as sweet as wild honey. “Perhaps you have miscalculated his intentions, Sarah—instead of running from him, perhaps you should meet him, challenge him, so to speak.”
She opens her mouth in shock. “You actually think he exists?”
Soft, derisive laughter. “Speaking metaphorically of course, Sarah dear.” She hears a rustle of fabric as he shifts in the arm chair.
Ignoring the screaming voice in her head that tells her to beware, she asks, “How would I do that?”
“Face your fears like any other phobic.” He speaks matter-of-factly, “Cut the red cord and invite him to join you…to do as he pleases, because you are not afraid.”
Cold shivers sweep down her spine. “I can’t do that.”
He sighs deeply. “Sarah,” he chides. “The worst he can do is touch you. And you’re not exactly a nun, are you? What makes you so afraid of his touch?”
His words work well to confuse her—suddenly she feels like she’s fifteen again. A child on the verge of becoming an adult. “I don’t know,” she whispers.
“I am here with you, Sarah—face your fears. I can’t bear seeing such a smart, young woman hindered by something so foolish and insignificant. This man of your nightmares…he should have no power over you.” He knows those words will work to ignite her courage—he smirks—and that will cause her downfall.
Nodding slightly, she agrees. “Okay.”
“Hold out your right hand,” he says, his eyes glittering with wild excitement—she’s almost in his grasp. He places a small dagger in the palm of her hand.
Her fingers close automatically against the cold metal—she doesn’t notice how his fingers do not touch hers.
“Open your eyes,” he commands, leaning over her as her eyelids flutter open. “You must be the one to do it.”
She looks at the intricate dagger in her hands—she’s never seen anything quite like it. The hilt seems to be studded with rubies. “Do all psychiatrists carry decorative knives in their pockets?” she jokes weakly. “Like some sort of protection against us lunatics?”
His lips settling into a harsh line, he scrutinizes her—his eyes severe. “It’s a valuable antique—now cut the cord Sarah. Let him know that he does not have the power to cause you distress.”
She looks at him for a few seconds before slowly slipping the blade under the bracelet. Her eyes are intent on his as she angles the blade, snapping the cord with one swift movement. Her breath hitches in her throat—she looks at him like she’s expecting something terrible to happen any moment.
- pin drop silence-
“You see? Nothing to be worried about,” he says calmly.
Her lips part as her heartrate reaches a frenzied peak. “Oh God,” she says, her body shaking with relief—her emotions are so strong that she covers her face with her hands and starts sobbing uncontrollably. “I was so scared.”
In one fluid motion, he sits next to her on the sofa, his arm draped around her shoulders. “Do not weep so, Sarah,” he lilts. “The man of your nightmares no longer has any power over you.”
She lifts her head and somehow wills herself to stop crying. “I’m sorry—I’m just so relieved,” she stammers, her voice breaking as she breaks out into a fresh wave of sobs. “I don’t know how to thank you”—she says, in between hiccups.
He rubs her back in a circular motion, soothing out the sobs that wrack her rail thin frame. “I’m sure you can think of something. But that doesn’t matter right now.”
She leans into his touch—it’s something familiar, yet something alien. “Thank you.”
There’s a mischievous sparkle in his eyes. “I noticed a bottle of merlot in the kitchen, when I was preparing your soup. Shall we celebrate?”
She can’t help but smile—he looks almost boyish. “I don’t drink—but, by all means, go ahead.”
“You don’t drink?” He looks somewhat affronted. “What, at all?”
She laughs. “I’ve been on medication since I was fifteen—and I was too afraid that the pills wouldn’t work if I drank.”
He grins determinedly. “We’ve overcome a few of your other difficulties tonight. Perhaps you can have one glass with me—take it as free medical advice.”
“Alright,” she concedes. “But if Jesus starts talking to me, I’m going to sue you for medical malpractice.”
“You’ve gone from nightmare man to Jesus. Rather fickle with your hallucinations, aren’t you?” He asks teasingly before leaving the room and heading to the kitchen—he appears calm, but he’s barely able to contain himself.
After all these years, Sarah Williams is finally his.