Erin Skinner sat in the only chair in the room. It was soft and cold, leather. It creaked as she lowered herself onto it. The walls of the room were lined with books. Mostly manuals and text books on psychology, but mixed in were several books on the occult. These, more than the psychology manuals appeared dog-eared, the spines creased and peeling.
Standing in the center of the room, dressed in shirt-sleeves and khakis, was Dr. August Gotti. Erin was told this morning that Dr. Gotti was a specialist who visited the clinic twice a month to help with the more difficult cases. She was shocked to learn that she was one of these “more difficult cases”.
Dr. Gotti didn’t speak, at first. Erin wondered if it was going to be up to her to break the silence. It was something the other doctors tried and it got under her skin. Luckily, he spoke first. “My colleagues tell me you are a schizophrenic.” She didn’t respond. She guessed that she was meant to.
“I don’t think you are. I don’t think there is anything wrong with the way your brain works.” He walked over to the book shelves, pulled out an especially worn title. He held it in his hand, as if testing the heft of it, then placed it back on the shelf. “I think, in fact, that your brain is extraordinarily special.” ‘
He crossed the room, standing directly in front of Erin. “This boy you see, what is his name?”
Erin craned her neck to look up at him, “I don’t know,” she lied.
Dr. Gotti smiled back, his teeth were impossibly white. “His name is Kaloyan, isn’t it?”
She tried to hide her shock, but she couldn’t. How could he have known? She hadn’t told anyone, not even her doctors, the boy’s name.
“Ah,” he clapped his hands together once, a shockingly loud sound, “I see by your face that I’m right. Good, so we won’t have any need for lying. Don’t worry, I know exactly who your friend is. I probably know better than you.”
Erin began to squirm in her seat, the leather creaking again under her. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she lied again. Dr. Gotti knelt in front her, close enough for her to smell his putrid breath.
“Oh, Erin, there is no point in your deceptions. I know everything I need to know. I only brought you here today as a courtesy. You see my position here at the hospital affords me a great deal of respect,” he ran his hand across her cheek, catching the tear that making its slow track down to her chin. “A great deal of respect and a great number of privileges. Not the least of which is my choice of treatments.”
He stood again, walking back to the bookshelf. He reached for the top shelf, for a manila envelope jammed between two books on the occult. He walked back over to Megan, tears running freely down both her cheeks. He opened the folder, flipped through a few pages until he came to a sheet of yellow triplicate paper. He held the folder so that Erin could read the paper. “Here,” he pushed it closer to her, “see what fun we’re going to have.”
She looked over the sheet, most of it medical terms she didn’t understand. Except for the last line: Prescribed Treatment— ECT 640v. “You know what that means?”
She nodded that she did. “Good, then you also know that after tomorrow you’ll never hear from your little friend again.”
Sweat, cold as ice, ran down Erin’s back collecting in the elastic waistband of her hospital issue pants. She paced back and forth, stripping off the sweat stained clothes and slipping on the fresh set that had been dropped off earlier in the morning. Today was the day.
The boy, his name is Kaloyan, sat on a chair in the corner. He carefully averted his eyes while she undressed and dressed, not wanting to disrespect this young woman he loved so much. “Today, Erin Skinner, you will be made free from this prison,” his voice was deep, it reverberated off the walls. But he was just a small boy, no older than 8. This dissonance never registered with Erin. She never mentioned it to her therapists, either. Now she was realizing she may never hear it again.
She had an appointment today, at noon, for a round of Electro-Convulsive Therapy, electro-shock to the uninitiated. After questioning her fellow patients over breakfast, she learned that the prescribed amount, 640 volts, was double that of the maximum usually applied. A kindly old man who’d never given his name, and had no teeth, told her it must have been a typo. She knew it wasn’t. This Dr. Gotti had every intention of killing her, or at least making her brain-dead. She was past despair, hovering over acceptance, but her young (possibly imaginary) friend was strong.
He crossed the room and sat on the bed, patting the spot next to her. She sat next to him and he put his arm around her shoulder. She felt nothing, yet knew he was there. “Everything is going to be alright,” he whispered in her ear. His own strength flowed into her and a single tear rolled down her cheek; not from fear or anguish, but the realization of a new vigor. Everything was going to be ok. He continued to hold her as he whispered into her ear what she would have to do next. He spared her no detail, told her she was going to have to experience unimaginable pain, that she may even perish, but that she would fight anyway. She believed every word.
Dr. Gotti was already in the small operating room when Erin was wheeled in by a large, silent orderly. He had on a grin that seemed to split his face in two. The orderly helped Erin out of the wheelchair, her legs suddenly gone rubbery, and Dr. Gotti took her hands.
“Here we go, Ms. Skinner,” he spoke in a gentle tone that could have been comforting in any other circumstances. “Just hop up on the table, we’ll get you all set up,” he turned to the orderly, “Thank you, I’ll be alright from here.”
Erin climbed up onto the table, the leather-like material was cold and she felt goose bumps popping up all over her bare legs. She had changed before coming down, now she was wearing only a short hospital gown. She swung her legs up and lay down on the table. Calmness washed over her as she remembered what Kaloyan had told her. Excruciating pain, then freedom.
“You’re doing very good, young lady. I was expecting to have to wrestle you on the table,” the sound of Velcro being undone echoed through the small space, “I’m not going to lie, it’s a little disappointing.” He stepped up to the side of the table, a leather band in his hands. Along the band were a series of small disks. Thin leads ran from the disks to a bundle of wires that ran from the leather band to a small controller box, on a wheeled table. “Just stay relaxed.”
They took a deep breath in unison as Dr. Gotti wrapped the leather band around her head. It buckled in the back, making it uncomfortable to lay down. Two disks were pulled loose from the band and attached to her head at the temples. “These are what will actually pass the current through your skull, erasing all traces of that invisible friend of yours. Fun, yes?”
He moved around the table, pulling straps out and stretching them across her arms and legs. “These are just so you don’t thrash around too much. Nothing to worry about.”
He stood again at her head, pulling more of the disks on the leather band free, “And these are just for my personal amusement.” His hands moved past her face and in through the top of her gown. She tried to stop him, but her arms were strapped down tight. He attached one disk to the underside of her left breast, another to her belly, right below her navel.
“Hey,” she yelled, “What the hell are you doing!?”
He held a finger up to his lips, telling her to be quiet. “This will be quick, Ms. Skinner, but it most certainly will not be pleasant. The men who pay my bills do so for a very good reason: I am very good at what I do and I derive a great deal of pleasure from it.” He moved around the table and attached two more disks, one to each inner thigh. “I’m very good at what I do, and I am very trusted. So scream, if you wish, no one will come. I’ve given specific orders for us to be left alone.”
While he spoke, Erin began digging at her bonds with her fingernails. She felt strong and confident, but she also felt she didn’t want to get her chest and belly and thighs electrocuted. She was going to escape, she knew that. “I’m not scared,” she said, trying her best to sound defiant.
“Not yet, you aren’t, but soon you will be,” he moved away from the table, threw a switch. The air was filled with a humming noise, deep and frightening. “Soon you will be all alone in the world, and fear will be all you know.”
She began to dig more frantically with her nails, digging in till the point of pain. She was beginning to think she was going to make it, when she heard another switch being thrown.
Pain. That was Erin’s entire world now. It shot through her chest and down through her belly. All of the muscles in her thighs tightened up at once, her hips arched up toward the ceiling at an impossible angle. She tried to scream, tried to open her mouth, but couldn’t. Her jaw was tight, her teeth pushing against each other so hard she could swear she could hear them starting to crack. She tried to open her eyes before she realized they were open, she just couldn’t see anything. Then it stopped.
Her breathing was ragged, she couldn’t get enough air into her lungs. Her fingers went back to work, breathing or no breathing, digging at her restraints. She was tied down firm, but the straps were old, worn. She still had a chance. The switch hit again.
This time the pain was worse. Her muscles were already worn and this was just too much. Hot tears streamed down the sides of her face, but her fingers kept working. Electricity flowed through her, all of her muscles tightening. She dug in harder, to the point that it hurt almost as much as her chest, belly and thighs.
The power cut out again, her hips dropped back down to the table with a thud. Her fingers, the tips slick with blood, kept working. She cried out, a horrible gasping sound, tried to beg him to stop. Nothing resembling English came out. “What’s that,” Dr. Gotti called over, “I couldn’t quite make that out. Although I’m impressed you’re still conscious.” He threw the switch again.
The strap around her right wrist snapped, her arm swinging free. She wasted no time bringing it around to her left side, undoing the strap. Power still surged through her muscles as she sat up, the leads still attached to her body.
Dr. Gotti came rushing at her, his hands held out in front of him. He struck her hard in the shoulder, knocking her off the gurney, but her ankles were still strapped down. She felt a wrenching pain in her left ankle as it twisted around. As she fell, her gown fell over her face, leaving her blinded. Footsteps came and another horrible pain, his foot driven into her ribs. And again. He was yelling something, but in the confusion she couldn’t make it out.
She finally managed to pull her gown down, and saw him standing over her. The look in his face was savage, full of rage. He was practically foaming at the mouth. He went to kick her again, but she caught his foot and yanked hard. Another shot of pain ran up her leg, but it worked and he stumbled backward. He lost his balance, catching his head on a table as he fell. There was a sickening thud and a low groan. His legs twitched and a dark spot formed, then spread across his lap.
Erin pulled herself back up onto the table, her ankles screaming from the effort. She undid the straps and ripped the leads from her skin. The box that the leads ran from was heavy, but she managed to lift it and carry it over to where Dr. Gotti lay, unconscious and pissing his pants. She lifted it up over her head, her arms shaking from the effort, and then dropped it on his head. There was a loud crack, a spray of blood and the distinct smell of shit. She spat on him for good measure and then carefully made her way into the hallway, unseen.
* * *
The woods outside the institute were dark and foreboding. The moon was nowhere to be seen and Erin could barely see her hands in front of her face, but she made her way without a single misstep. Kaloyan stood beside her, ethereal yet entirely real, and guided her through the pitch darkness. She walked for an hour, to a space where the trees thinned and the grass grew as high as her navel. He led her to the center of the clearing, where no grass grew at all. In this space was what at first appeared to be a pool of water. It was swirling and sloshing and possibly even humming.
She knelt down beside it and only then realized it was not water at all. It seemed to have no substance to it at all. It was inky black and in it she saw what must have been a million points of brilliant lights. Like the night sky, only brighter. Scott came up behind her and whispered into ear. She listened, nodded and stood up.
Erin Skinner looked back over her shoulder, the lights of the Institute twinkling in the distance, and took a small leap into a swirling black hole of twinkling lights.