Dr. Johansson nodded his head curtly before ducking into the small cell.
Dr. Johansson had a deep dislike for the Juniper Ridge Asylum for the Mentally Disturbed. Most of the piping was exposed through missing drop-ceiling tiles. Seemingly ancient air shafts were rusted and encrusted with decades of filth. The halls were poorly lit and the cells were even darker.
Darius Roy’s cell was lit by a single bare, dust-covered 40-watt bulb that was assisted meekly by a ghostly trail of mid-evening light. It bled through the small rectangular chicken wire-reinforced window that was recessed into the wall, ten feet up.
The walls were adequately padded. However, the material appeared grimy from age and lack of care. Dr. Johansson made a mental note to bring up the issue with the health board. The facility was under poor management and he could no longer stand by and watch the patients suffer.
Today’s patient, Darius Roy, didn’t help the off-putting ambiance of the facility. He stared, wide-eyed with a toothy grin, out the window. He lay on the floor with his head propped against the base of the wall. His straightjacket matched the rest of the cell. It had been aged and discolored yellow-gray by the sweat, blood and tears from its continuous rotation of tenants.
Dr. Johansson sighed deeply before introducing himself. Today, he hoped to scratch the surface of the cause of his new patient’s condition. Even the slightest connection to the man’s humanity would suffice. Dr. Johansson sat in a plastic folding chair across from Darius Roy and adjusted his glasses.
Dr. Johansson paused. He scribbled on his notepad. He noted that Darius Roy was not at all frightened by whom or what he supposed was “coming” for him. In fact, he appeared delighted.
“Mr. Roy, who is coming?”
“They are! They chose me, you know. They told me so.”
“Who told you so?”
“They did. My friends.”
“Can you elaborate? What I mean is, can you explain to me who your friends are?”
Darius Roy shifted his eyes to Dr. Johansson. Dr. Johansson felt his chest tighten. Something about the mania in Mr. Roy’s red-ringed eyes… Something was different about the man. For the first time in all his years of medical experience, Dr. Johansson sat opposite a man he felt threatened by. He, for once, was happy to see a straightjacket in use. But shame bit at him. It was his duty to cure the man, not fear him.
“They! The ones from the stars. They needed an avenue. They needed a doorway.”
Dr. Johansson tore his eyes from the man. His piercing stare was unnerving at best. He had not blinked yet, as far as Dr. Johansson could tell. Dr. Johansson scribbled some pointless notes, just some nonsensical doodles with his pen – anything to avoid the man’s eyes.
“So, Mr. Roy, are you their ‘avenue’, their ‘doorway’, as you called it?” Dr. Johansson didn’t look up from his notepad.
Darius Roy chuckled.. His lips tightened as he laughed. They slid over his teeth and pinched together as if he was a child with a dirty secret that he had sworn not to divulge.
The giggling coupled with the ever-darkening room unsettled Dr. Johansson further. He felt a bead of sweat trail down his cheek. He took a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed his forehead. He gasped and jumped to his feet as a spider fell in his lap. It dropped off and scurried to a darkened corner of the cell. He had not seen it initially. Had it dropped from the ceiling? Or had it been folded into his handkerchief?
Darius Roy’s eyes lit up and he laughed harder, breaking the weak, quivering barrier his lips had created. His hysteria begun to dig deeper into Dr. Johansson’s conscious.
He sat down again in the folding chair. He removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose with thumb and forefinger. Finally, Darius Roy’s laughter subsided to a quiet giggle, but Dr. Johansson needed a moment to collect his thoughts. He owed it to his patient to focus. The distractions were unfair to the man’s treatment.
When Dr. Johansson finally replaced his glasses, the room was noticeably darker. The waning sunlight was all but gone and the small light bulb fought a losing battle with the ever-encroaching shadows. All Dr. Johansson could see of Darius Roy’s face was his shark-like grin. He cleared his throat and decided to move forward in order to salvage what he could of the botched therapy session.
“Why do you call me that?”
“Why do you insist on calling me, ‘Mr. Roy’?”
“I apologize. What would you like to be called?”
Darius Roy chuckled. “It doesn’t really matter. Call me what you’d like.” The shark grin returned. “Soon enough, we’ll all be dust anyway.”
“Mr., er, Darius, we never discussed how you became acquainted with the, uh-”
“I didn’t become acquainted. They came to me. They needed me and I agreed to help them. They need transactions. Blood for blood. Flesh for flesh. You know…”
“Is that why you murdered your family?”
“Oh come now, they were only the beginning. There will be more. Before long, we will all be gone.”
“Yes, well, are they, uh, your friends, the reason you murdered your family?”
“Why does everyone insist that I had any part in their murder?”
“You were tried and convicted.”
Darius Roy sighed. “Yes, of course I was.”
“The police reports also stated that there was no blood. Can you explain that?”
“Well, of course. They took it. They needed it. Now they are almost tangible. You might be able smell their acrid scent. Can you hear their whale songs? Can you feel them in your bones, Doctor?” Darius Roy chuckled.
Dr. Johansson decided to ignore the last question. He continued his notes, only half aware of what he was writing. “So what now? Are they are supposed to come for you?”
“No. No, they aren’t coming for me.” Darius Roy’s grin widened. “I’m merely the catalyst. I’m the flame and they’re the moths. You, on the other hand…” He chuckled.
Dr. Johansson narrowed his eyes, slightly annoyed with the cryptic comments. “What is that supposed to mean, Mr. Roy?”
Darius Roy didn’t answer. He leaned forward, revealing his manic eyes again. The moonlight glinted from his teeth. “Tell me, what do you have there? What have you written about me?”
Dr. Johansson’s palms felt grimy. He cleared his throat so not to sound nervous. A distant roll of thunder sounded, and felt appropriate to the situation. A chill ran down his arm. “Well, I scribbled a few notes. It’s just to help me-”
He paused. His notes looked completely foreign to him. After the first line, where he had written about Darius Roy not being frightened, followed a page full of bizarre shorthand. However, the scribbles seemed to have purpose – the sheet was filled up with what appeared to be a foreign language.
“Looks like they found you, Doctor.” Darius Roy’s teeth glimmered before he sat back against the wall, allowing his face to be consumed by the shadows.
The bulb flickered as another roll of thunder seemingly rocked the tiny cell. A tight pinch in his chest had Dr. Johansson reach into his coat pocket. He fumbled with the aspirin bottle, popping its top and sending dozens of pills to the floor. Sweat streaked down his face as he wheezed for air. He dropped to his knees in a desperate attempt to find a pill. He needed to stop the pain. It was becoming unbearable. He glanced up to the exit buzzer, but couldn’t move.
Fiery pain roared through his arms. His flesh rippled as if a legion of snakes writhed under his skin. He heard his flesh tear like canvas as hundreds of gleaming tentacles spilled out from his forearms. A flash of lightning illuminated them. Black, green and glistening, they whipped through the air.
After Dr. Johansson fell to the floor, his last moments were agony. His flesh was slowly dissolved and consumed. But just before slipping into oblivion, Dr. Johansson noted the manic grin on Darius Roy’s face.
Brian Barnett has published over 60 works over the past two years both online and in print, including a half dozen anthologies. He is the co-editor of The New Flesh ezine.
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