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Sunday, 15 January 2012

Watch Your Back

Cold. When Felix woke up this was the first thing he felt. He was in a dimly lit room. The floor which he found himself lying upon was an unforgiving slab of stone, which sent chills creeping through his entire body. He was lying on his stomach, and one side of his face was completely numb from being pressed against the freezing floor as he slept. Glancing around the room Felix realised he must be in someone’s basement. He saw some rotted stairs which lead upwards to a padlocked latch door. Around him were walls filled with shelves. The shelves held the normal sort of junk you’d find in a basement. DIY kits, paint pots, camping gear. It wasn’t that however, which made Felix stop for a second. It was the table at the far end of the room. It was a sturdy old dining table, covered in a white table cloth. But the cloth had a strange pattern on it. Felix strained his eyes, which were already struggling in the dim light. He realised it wasn’t a pattern on the tablecloth; it was stains. Red stains.
Where the hell am I?
Felix was beginning to come to his senses and suddenly he felt a twinge of terror in the pit of his stomach which began to rise to his throat. Felix tried to right himself, but found to his dismay that his hands were tied tightly behind his back. Felix strained to pull his fingers in towards his wrists, which sent little electric tingles up his arms. When he did they pressed against not rope or tape, but metal. He was in handcuffs. He struggled for a minute, writhing on the ground awkwardly, before managing to kick back onto his haunches and rock into the normal sitting position. Felix took some comfort in the fact that his legs hadn’t been tied up.
But I’m so cold. I’m so God-damn cold.
Goosebumps prickled over Felix, and he decided the best thing to do was get moving and heat up a bit. Felix twisted his head around and saw that only a few feet behind him was a wall. He began to slide backwards using his legs, until he felt the wall against his back. As soon as it touched him a flame of agony was ignited in Felix, and for a moment he saw stars. He stopped for to catch his breath and waited for his vision to clear. It would be fair to say, that Felix was far from having an athletic build and his fitness level was severely lacking. Despite this he strained out a low chuckle.
Who says a little puppy-fat isn’t good? It’ll be keeping me warm right now I’ll bet.
Felix then manoeuvred himself into the standing position by pushing his body up with his legs while leaning back on the wall. It made his thighs strain considerably, and despite the chilling temperature of the room, beads of sweat began to form in small droplets on his brow. Once he was fully upright, he took a moment once again, to catch his breath. His first thought then, was to climb up the old stairs and see if he could open the latch. Maybe the padlock was unlocked; he couldn’t rule that out until he tried it. But he glanced at the stairs. He guessed there were about 18 steps, and this was a problem for a few reasons. One, his hands were tied behind his back, and in his drowsy state his sense of balance would be zilch. The last thing he wanted to do was fall backwards and smash his skull on the stone floor below. Two, he was probably too weak in the first place. Even now his legs were wobbling in his unsteady state. Lastly, maybe the person who put him here was waiting to hear him awaken and move around. Felix reasoned that it would be best to avoid the attention of his captor, at least until he got a better idea of who he or she might be.
Still, he decided if he was quiet enough, it was probably a good idea to get a proper look around the room. He felt his eyes draw towards the table again, and he took a tentative step towards it. As he drew closer, he realised that his suspicions had been accurate. The white cotton tablecloth had large rusty-red splotches dried into it, and Felix could see it was unmistakably blood.
Who’s blood?
No. Felix shut his eyes tight and gritted his teeth. He wasn’t to think about the tablecloth. Not at a time like this. All that mattered was getting the hell out of this freezing place. As he turned from the table a wave of dizziness washed over him, and the fluffy-yet-sickly cloud of light headedness bloomed over him. For a moment everything went black. He stumbled backwards and fell to the floor, hard. Shock struck him through the back, knocking the wind out of him. For a minute all he could do was lie there, on the cold floor, barely daring to breathe for fear of crying out.
Okay, you’re in shock – that’s alright, that’s normal. Just lie down for a bit but try not to go to sleep...
Try not to go to sleep? A terrible idea formed in Felix’s mind. What if he was concussed? Felix knew from the hospital soaps he watched on TV that if you’re concussed and you fall asleep you might not wake up again. And Felix was feeling like he was on the verge of unconsciousness.
No, come on! You’ve got to get yourself out of here! Do something, anything! Just don’t black out!
Felix struggled to think for a moment. Then, slowly, he pushed his wrist forcefully into the cuff that encased it. This produced a dull ache, and with his hand being so cold and numb it barely even picked up on it. Felix tried again. This time he pushed his wrist deeper into the cuff, and then rotated it, side to side, pushing down on the cuff harder with each rotation. He felt the metal bite into his skin and a spark of sharp pain travelled up his arm. It was the wakeup call he needed. Felix began to feel a hot sensation on the surface of his skin. He could only imagine this was a bit of blood creeping out of the scrape. Felix didn’t care, because the pain in his wrist kept him awake, and right now, he needed to be alert.
That was too close. Alright so it’s blood on the table, but that’s not important right now. What you need to do, is get yourself out of these damn cuffs.
Right. Felix repeated the getting up manoeuvre, and once upright managed to start carefully walking around the room. What he needed would be a pair of pliers or something. Felix knew nothing about DIY, or handcuffs for that matter. But he assumed pliers would be his best bet.
After scrutinizing the shelves and boxes around the room, Felix realized it was probably pointless. While there were some DIY tools the range was more simplistic – paint rollers, oils, screwdrivers – that sort of shtick.  The person who was keeping him here had obviously thought all of this through. Felix’s rationality was drying up and raw panic was beginning to set in. He had been counting on a pair of pliers, and now he knew there were none, fear was beginning to worm it’s way into him. He closed his eyes. There had to be another way out of these cuffs.
Why not try and get your hands in front of you first?
Now that was a good idea. Felix didn’t know if it was possible, but it would be a good start. He thought for a moment, then gently laid himself back down on the ground. He drew his feet as far as he could towards him. He then pulled his knees into his chest and breathed sharply out, and continued to hold his breath. He tried as hard as he could to relax himself. If he relaxed his muscles would be smaller, and he’d have a better chance of getting the handcuffs in front of himself. He rocked back on his spine carefully, freeing his hands from beneath him, and then stretched his arms out so he was able to bring the handcuffs under his feet. It was difficult, but Felix was able to credit himself with good flexibility if nothing else. With a bit of effort, he was able to bring his hands round to his chest. Waves of nausea continued to wash over him, but this triumph had fuelled Felix somewhat, and he was able to pull himself back up to his feet. It also gave him an idea. He had clocked oil on one of the shelves beforehand, and he realised that perhaps this could grease his hands up enough to let him slip out of the cuffs. He grabbed the can of oil and carefully drizzled it on top of his left hand. His hands had been starved of circulation for so long that they had turned chalk white. It reminded him of putting caramel topping on vanilla ice cream.
The oil helped. But not enough. Felix was able to wiggle his hand out of the cuff until it reached the little sticky-out bone at the base of his thumb. No matter how hard he tried, the cuff wasn’t budging.
No... NO!
Whatever had been holding back Felix’s panic had given up, and Felix was taken over by fear which began to race around his whole body, pulsing through his every cell. Tears began to roll down his cheeks and a fresh line of snot oozed lazily from his nose. Felix was a mess. A shivering, filthy, terrified mess. It was then the table caught Felix’s eye. He’d been so focused on the tablecloth that he hadn’t actually considered the table itself. It was a thick, sturdy wooden table. He imagined it would be very, very heavy. The kind that could do your back in if you lifted it wrong. Slowly, Felix made his way back towards the table.
Are you sure you can do this?
Felix licked his lips, and stared with a fixed intensity at the table. Carefully, he slid underneath it, lying on his back. He positioned himself so that his hands were right next to one of the table legs. Then, he lifted his legs above himself and planted both of his feet squarely on the underside of the table. He pushed and grimaced, but felt the table lift ever so slightly. With extra effort, Felix pushed again, and this time had lifted the table high above him. Glancing at his hands, he positioned his leftie directly underneath the table leg.
No backing out now. Just do it, count to three and get it done.
Felix did. He shut his eyes, counted to three, and then dropped his feet down to the floor. The snap of bone under the weight of the table leg made Felix feel sick, and he let out a moan of agony as hot waves of pain exploded from his hand. He quickly pushed the table up again with his legs, releasing his crushed hand. He crouched now, still below the table, and studied his left hand. It was pretty broken alright. He couldn’t clench it at all. Slowly, carefully, Felix pulled on the cuff. Pain crackled up his arm but to his delight he saw the cuff get over the broken bone in his thumb. And that was it. The cuff slipped straight off after that. Felix had to stop himself from crying out with joy.
Felix’s joy, however, was short lived. The door at the top of the stairs had begun to open. He heard the lock shift and the creak of hinges. Then the footsteps. They came down the stairs one by one. Thud. Thud. Thud. They were heavy footsteps, weighty footsteps. Trouble footsteps.
Felix was terrified. His eyes brimmed with tears. His hands may have been free but only one of them could throw a punch. And what good would that be if his captor had a gun or a knife? Felix stayed crouched under the table, and pulled the tablecloth down to conceal himself from this mystery person. The footsteps had stopped. He must be at the bottom of the stairs now. Felix was shaking in horror. After everything he’d done; breaking his own hand. Was it for nothing?
And then he saw the feet of the man. From a gap in the tablecloth. Big black boots. And they were making their way towards him. Felix shrank back, frightened as a mouse. He saw a shadow over the table cloth, fingers, which stretched and bent in a sinister distortion. Then he saw the hand grasp the table cloth, before yanking it off.
“Please don’t kill me!” shrieked Felix, eyes screwed shut as if it would allow him to remain invisible.
“Who the hell are you?”
Wait... What? Felix opened his eyes and looked to see a man before him dressed in a policeman’s uniform. Felix threw himself at the man, embracing him unashamedly.

Many things became clear to Felix later on. It turned out that the policeman, Officer Monsen, had been called to the house after it was reported that the resident had been found dead in his livingroom. As it so happened, the resident, fifty-four year old Kenneth Shultz, had died of an allergic reaction to a new kidney which had been recently transplanted to him.

Things became even clearer later that night, when Felix looked in the mirror, and saw a crude mass of stitches etched across the side of his back.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Mr. N.

“There are a few things, Ms. Forbes, which we need to make clear before we go signing any paperwork.”

Brodie Forbes was sitting in a small office in the city hospital. In front of her was a large chocolate coloured wooden desk, cluttered with files, folders and empty coffee cups. Behind the desk sat Dr. Robert Christie. Christie was middle aged, but the stress of the hospital workload had taken it’s toll over the years. He now had wrinkles so deep set into his face his dark olive skin looked like some sort of crumpled leather. Brodie was also aware Christie was a heavy smoker, and not just because of the pungent aroma of cigarettes he exuded. There was actually an ash tray on his desk, with a mountain of cigarette stubs piled on it, like some sort of mini funeral pyre. Brodie tried her best not to scowl at the sight of it, not that Christie would have noticed if she had. He was one of those people that constantly felt that they had something far better to do than talk to mere simpletons, and Christie wasn’t afraid to make that clear. He sighed, rubbed his tired eyes and leaned back in his swivel chair.

“First of all, whatever you experience during the experiment is strictly confidential.  If we find out that information about the experiment has been leaked, you will be prosecuted and will most likely get yourself a criminal record. Got it?”

“Sure.” Brodie said, nodding. Like hell she was going to tell anyone. If her mother knew she was signing herself up for medical experiments she would go through the roof. But Brodie was a student, and Brodie needed the money.

“So let me ask you some quick questions, just to make sure you’re the right type of candidate for our enterprise. Would you say you have a good sleeping pattern? Are you getting enough sleep, without any interruptions or disturbances?”

“Yes. Normally I sleep for seven hours a night.”

It was actually more like three.

“Ok”, Christie began scribbling notes on a pad sheet, “And during your sleep do you experience a lot of dreams? Do you ever get nightmares or lucid dreams perhaps?”

“I don’t really remember my dreams I don’t think. Only now and again but they’re never very significant.”

Brodie remembered all her dreams. Most of them harked back to her childhood, when she had tea-parties with her imaginary friends.

“Do you ever sleepwalk?”


Except last night when she woke up in her bath tub.

“Right, last question, do you believe dreams hold any truths or significance in their messages?”


“Alright. Now, the experiment itself is going to take place at ten pm, but we’ll need you in here for about eight, just so we have a few hours to prepare. I don’t want to go into too much detail about what the experiment aims to achieve; as it would spoil the purpose. But, I can tell you what the procedure is going to be.” Christie paused for a moment to crack his knuckles. Brodie winced at the crunch of bones, but kept a small fake smile on her lips. In reality the doctor was making her skin crawl.

“When we get you in we need to do some prep-work. So basically we’ll ask you to sit and do nothing while we get you wired up to our monitoring machines. After this we’ll give you a dose of the new drug we’re developing, which will put you into a deep sleep for the rest of the night. We estimate that you should come round at about six am, then we’ll ask you some questions. After that you are free to go with your money. Are you still interested?”

Brodie didn’t even hesitate. She’d been so sleep deprived lately they were basically doing her a favour.

“Of course.” She smiled.


Brodie returned to the hospital at eight pm the next day. A receptionist directed her to one of the lower levels of the hospital, where most of the experiments were normally held. She was greeted (more like grunted) there by an exhausted looking Dr. Christie, who led her into a small room where two technicians bustled about over monitors and odd machines. The room had been packed with scientific equipment. Big metal boxes that chirped and buzzed, twists of wires grew like weeds over the floor and up the walls. At the side of the room was a single bed, which to Brodie’s disappointment was just an average hospital bed, with a spindly metal frame and thin mattress with a duvet barely thicker than a blanket. It didn’t look comfortable. She frowned at herself. What had she been expecting? A freaking king-sized bed with feather pillows and water mattress with a built-in shiatsu massager? Nope, just a normal bed.

“This is where you’ll be sleeping tonight and where the experiment will be recorded. We have a couple of cameras just to record the actual physical events during the night but most of the work will be recorded by these machines.” Christie explained.

Brodie didn’t really care. All that concerned her was getting whatever it was they were going to do over with and get that lovely money she so desperately needed right now.

Brodie was asked to go to the washroom down the hall and prepare herself as if she was going to bed normally. She chuckled to herself, as this was so far from normal.  She got changed into her PJs, brushed her teeth and tied her hair up in a bun. She was prone to spots and had learned one of the best ways to avoid them was to keep dirty hair off your skin while you slept. She reconsidered it for a moment, wondering if the bun would get in the way. She shook her head, nope, the jolly Dr. Christie would surely have said if it was a no-no. Brodie observed that like most other doctors, Christie enjoyed giving clear instructions. She looked at herself in the mirror. The girl in the mirror looked nervously back at her. What the hell are you nervous about? An injection? Puh-lease. Get a grip or they might pull the plug, and then you’ll have to go another week of digestive biscuits and water. She took a deep breath in and pulled herself together, with a determined frown on her brow. Ok. Here goes nothing.

Brodie returned to the room where the prep-work commenced. A couple of technicians began hooking her up to the machines by sticking little pads to her temple, chest and upper arms. Tiny little wires connected the pads to the monitors where, to Brodie’s somewhat uneasy amusement, she could see her heartbeat pulsing in a green line on a screen. Dr. Christie saw to it that things ran smoothly, and made use of himself by double-checking all the machinery. Well, really he just poked around the machines for half a minute, then slouched in a chair in the corner, where he started reading something on a Kindle. Brodie didn’t know whether to find this comical or annoying, so she just kept looking at the little screen with her heart rate, watching the flash of green bounce up and down to the beat of her heart.

By the time the technicians and Dr. Christie were satisfied the experiment was ready to go it was five to ten. Brodie got into the bed, which really was as uncomfortable as it looked, and Christie injected her with the mystery drug. It wasn’t long before it took hold. The room began to drift away from her, even the chirps and buzzes of the machines went quiet, and with each breath Brodie drew herself deeper into the darkness.

“Robert, I really think we need to reconsider this drug. Maybe it’s time to call it a day.” Mark, one of the technicians said to Dr. Christie.

Mark, Christie and Jess, the other technician, were sitting by the machines in the room where Brodie slept quietly.

Christie looked at Mark with acute annoyance.

“Why? How are we going to get anywhere with this if we give up so early on? If this works we’ll make the history books. The history books, Mark. And think how much money we’d get. You wouldn’t have to live in that shitty flat you’re always moaning about. Hell, get yourself a mansion!” retorted Christie. Mark shook his head solemnly. He wasn’t convinced. Jess continued to study the machines. She wasn’t ready to take any sides just yet.

“This is our third trial Robert. Because the other two subjects... the other two...”

“We’re getting our first response to the drug Dr. Christie.” Interrupted Jess. She indicated to Brodie’s body temperature, which was beginning to drop, little by little. Another monitor, which mapped Brodie’s brain activity, showed that Brodie was having a dream.

“Ok, she’s started the scenario. Her heart rate has increased slightly but other than that she seems to be calm enough,” Jess reported. Christie gave a nod and glanced over at Brodie on the bed. Her face showed no reactions to what she was going through in her head right now, but no doubt that would soon change.

There was a moment of contemplation, before Mark took another stab at Christie.

“Robert, I can’t do this anymore. This drug, this “Mr. N”, as you call it... there’s something not right about it. It’s dangerous.” Mark reiterated. Christie rolled his eyes. He was beginning to lose his patience.

“Mr N is nothing more than an artificial nightmare. We all get nightmares Mark. Call it the bogeyman or night terrors, whatever. It’s normal. If there is some way we can induce a nightmare so powerful it could wake a coma victim with a jolt, then we’d be rolling in it. How, Mark, does any of that sound bad to you?” said Christie, exasperated.

“Your Mr N has already killed two people. Tonight it could be a third. They’re not waking up. They’re dying of fright.” Mark said, now quietly.

“Those two people both lied on their applications. One had a heart condition and the other smoked and drank excessively. It could have just as easily been that. You’ll see. Mr N will do his thing tonight and with a bit of luck we’ll see our first positive result. One step closer to the “big bucks” as they say.” Chuckled Christie.

“What is it they see?” asked Jess suddenly. “What is Mr N, actually?”

Christie frowned slightly.

“I couldn’t say. Mr N is made of the chemicals secreted by the body when a sleeping person is experiencing a nightmare. Only we concentrated the chemicals and messed with them a bit to give them a bit more of a kick. I guess Mr N would manifest himself differently depending on the person. But one thing’s for sure. I wouldn’t like to meet him.” At this, Christie let out a husky laugh. It sent a chill up Mark’s spine.

No one said anything for a minute. Then suddenly, a machine began to let out an alarm beep. Jess could see that Brodie’s body temperature had become unnaturally low, and her heart was pumping far too fast. Heart attack fast. Jess turned to see Brodie on the bed, who had begun to shake, as if she was having a seizure. Her hair clung to beads of sweat which rolled like glass marbles down her face. The bun she had put it in had come loose and now her hair lay in damp ringlets. Brodie’s face had contorted into a look of pure terror and anguish. It was the look of a frightened child. Christie was at her bedside immediately. He pulled back one of Brodie’s eyelids, to reveal nothing but milky white glass. A wet patch began to spread on the bed sheet. Brodie had wet herself. Suddenly her shaking stopped and she lay motionless, like a clockwork toy that had ran it’s course. The heart monitor let out a long beep. Brodie had died.

“I told you! I fucking told you, you sick, twisted, money-grubbing, fuck!” spat Mark, who stormed out of the room. Christie looked helplessly for a moment to Jess.

“I agree.” She said, and left the room as well.

Christie stood for a moment, fuming with Mark and Jess, but most of all fuming with himself. Mark was right. It was time to pull the plug on “Mr N”. Three deaths. It was becoming clear the experiment was going nowhere. Christie nodded to himself, decidedly.

You can’t pull the plug on me Robert.

What the fuck? Christie jumped as he heard the voice. That dark, whispering voice. He looked back at Brodie, who lay still where she was, still as dead as a doornail.

That’s right. Mr N will always be here.

Christie turned grey. It was Brodie. At least, her lips moving. But it wasn’t her voice. It wasn’t her. Christie began to back slowly away from the bed, as he trembled with cold, sickly terror.

Mr N will always be here. Maybe he’ll visit you tonight. When you’re fast, fast asleep. You may not want to meet me Robert, but I am simply dying to meet you.