Mature | Horror/Mystery
” When Andrew Pottarus first wakes he has amnesia. Then he’s told who he is; a survivor, a father, an agent. They help him back to his feet and keep his family safe – a promise he’d be with them again. But little by little the pieces start to fall away.
Until all he can taste is blood. ”
Psychological Horror, Body Horror, Graphic to Intense Violence, Graphic Gore,
There is nothing.
No lights staring down, no acid bile bubbling over lips and neck. No pain.
Scribbling words and blurs of rich reds coat his thoughts, intermingling with what happened as they stood over him. Their needles, their blank faces. A rush of white cuts the nothing in half; grotesque bodies rise from the jagged edges, twisting and groaning through static blurbs. They try to pull themselves out but are cleaved by a phantom gust.
Something jolts in the stream of white.
Grey oozes between carvings of white, echoing shapes and dimensions in the nothing. Veins crawl along the invisible shapes, following a distant beat. The same beat thumps against his skull, and red rushes through the blooming veins. His blurry form moves through the carved hallway-shape, walking in sync with a different beat. The beat he follows hammers away at the white and red, tearing it back to the depths of nothing. Beneath him platforms shine their outlines – trailing thick fluids that seep from somewhere far above. And in each step there is a metal clang; he hears two children laughing among a roaring crowd.
Something tells him to stop.
Opaque white platforms lead in a tight curve into a winding spiral. Red leaks down the empty space around him, the only outline beyond the third step before him. Puddles accumulate on the platforms, dripping down to the next step and down to the endless pit beneath. From above him trickles cold fluid – water – and the central column the platforms curl around fills as a waterfall.
The distant heart beats again.
He finds himself in front of a pair of doors. It’s bordered by cream walls that reach into the distance, there is rusty chains and an aged lock holding the thick handles together – the lock is unclipped and hangs loose. A key on a length of twine hangs off the lock. The voice again, it tells him to turn back.
With clouded hands he pulls lock off of the chains, dropping them all to the floor – there’s no sound. He grabs the handles and pulls; locked, he tries another pull. Bending down to pick up the key that hung from the lock he can make out a crude shape – made of bent metal well worn and scratched. Of course the lock works – there’s a click and the doors fall open to a grand empty lobby. High ceilings made of glass, flooring of repeating patterns; it’s unfurnished except for three people sitting in the center.
There is things around them, he can see them talking; a mother and two children, girls.
A family sits at a picnic, the mother and children with a formless father. Between them sits a small cake and presents gathered off to one side. The father pulls the girls into a hug; and the girls that were just sitting in the lobby are hanging from him. He doesn’t move, remaining still in a half crouch.
One of them sat herself on his knee, her arms wrapping around his neck with a cat plush still well clutched in one hand – there is a bow in her hair. The second is screaming, her head turned to the woman sitting in the center. “He’s back, Mama, he came back to us!” She’s standing with her arms around his chest beneath one of his arms. She holds a rainbow octopus. The mother comes over, hugs him, they talk, hands are held. There is the flash where the faceless father’s hand covers his own – the woman has a matching ring.
Somewhere in the conversation, there was a smile.
The one with a hair bow and a stuffed cat pulls him to where they were sitting. He sits, the girls sit, and the girls share their toys with him. How long does he spend with them? Not enough.
The wife pulls a box out of somewhere and hands it to the husband, to him. Her words are unheard, motioning to the box bound in a puzzle of shapes and colors. The girls eagerly tell him to open it. He looks to his wife – her face is a blur – and she nods. The girls, sitting on either side of him, have the same blur to their face – blank canvases.
The first layer of the mystery box is simple and comes off easily, the tissue paper barely holds on to the solid shape with cheap clear tape. If the rest of it is packaged in the same manner, then it’d be open in no time. There was even a bit of brown sticking out of a corner, perhaps a glimpse of the cardboard that made its shape. More tissue paper was torn from the increasingly solid form, the brown was of a piece of tissue paper. The further he dug, traces of black began to pour out of the seams.
He paid it no mind.
Careless tearing turns into picking around the edges of the tougher wrapping and the thick strands of tape for an end to either. The girls nudge him on; and he begins scratching, pulling at any loose piece he manages to get a hold of. As he rips into the confides of the box, thin cracks form at the edges of the room, growing up the walls and the pillars to the ceiling – the glass cries from an invisible weight.
He ignores it.
His family is frightened, but he tells them he’ll protect them – as he tugs into another slight bulge in the tape till it goes white. A small rip forms in the stressed tape and he pulls on it. The ceiling leaks molten stone, glass cracks overhead, the streaks of white zip around open surfaces and bleed steam. The faceless wife pleads to him and grabs his arm, that he needs to stop. The girls cry at his side.
He pushes them away.
What is in the box?
Shards and broken panes of glass hit the floor, pieces of grey and tan concrete strike the tile and form holes in the ground around them. The faceless wife and children are screaming, the daughters are the loudest. In the commotion, his mind splits.
Continue ripping at the box.
Escape with the box, leave them behind.
Escape alone, leave everything behind.
Escape with them, leave the box behind.
A slab of concrete decides.
It strikes his faceless wife and spreads gore everywhere. He drops the box, picks up the girls one under each arm, and runs in the direction away from the door he came through. The blank canvas daughters are crying, screaming for him to save their mother. One kicks him in the ribs, the other shouts at him, asking, “Daddy, why are you leaving Mommy behind?!”
The white lines crawl along the grey and the ground breathes suffocating fumes and fire, the ceiling keeps dripping liquid glass and metal. Jerking floors give birth to spires coated in liquid fire – he can barely avoid them as he runs towards a bright blue sky and a field of never-ending grass.
In his next step the world slows – a single superheated leak falls from the crumbling skylight glass and it tears through muscle and bone, leaving a thin trail of fragments in his arm. He tumbles onto the ground and drops the girls in front of him, digging his fingers into the searing flesh. He heaves, trying to dig away the visible shards from muscle and tendons.
The limb is dead.
A mouth tears across the shape of his head as he looks to the girls – who are still getting up.
Another drop stabs through the dead limb and tears a new tunnel through his flesh. Another droplet strikes through his back and lungs. A voice screams somewhere in his head to get up, take the girls, and to just run. The girls, they’re still standing in front of him, hands over their mouths. He forces himself forward and pushes the closest on with his good arm. “Run!” This time, they listen – with tears in their eyes as they avoid crashing glass and concrete.
More drops of liquid fire tears through is back and legs until he can’t hold himself up anymore, crumbling to his knees. In the distance there was a roar. The first to fall is his heart, and then his arms, and then he’s on the floor, feeling the floor crumble beneath him and a jet of steam presses roughly against his neck from a jagged white crack. There is a slam to the head, pressure pops, ribs are crushed, legs and arms bend out of shape, a terrorized scream.
Something swats him in the cheek.
Fingers dig into moist soil, uprooting clumps of grass as he struggles to right himself. His head is swirling, and he settles for a bent over sitting position, the girls at his sides. They’re speaking to him; but their words are jumbled. Are they asking if he is alright? He has no idea, and he runs a hand over a searing pain in his shoulder – no wound. One girl tugs at his arm. A voice tells him to ‘get up’.
He presses his knees down into the grass and pushes away from the ground, one hand held to the brilliant sunlight overhead. While rising a sharp pain stabs in his calves and chest, he falls back down. One of the girls tugs at his left hand, begging unheard to him – the other echoes her plead. There is panic their less blurry faces, their features pulled inward. A voice says ‘no’, others respond with ‘please’. The pain over floods the battery of pleads; his head is still swirling. The voice of one of the girl’s seems to crack. The other pushes on his back, the former pulls on his arms to force him up.
Across the landscape and on top of a looming hill stood a line of white forms. In their hands they held bottomless things that screech, torches dancing at the fronts. The lush green of the grass beneath him and the girls turn burnt and smoking in front of the white forms – the smell of roasting fats and gasoline hits them hard.
The two girls hold their noses, stepping behind him with one on each hand. He doesn’t look away from the white forms, soldiers perhaps, and he starts to nudge them away – to a distance behind them – telling them to run.
They don’t want to leave him behind, again.
The soldiers begin a march, melting the dew and grass to roasted clumps at their feet. A trail of sickly ash browns and black are left in their wake – their machines are screaming and belching fire. He hesitates, takes a step back and tells the girls to run – there is a hitch in his throat – and he tells them he’ll follow. It’s their turn to hesitate – but soon their hands release his. The steps of the soldier’s heavy boots smashing into the ground in a slow drumming beat stalls him – then he runs.
The trio take off down a dirt trail that leads into a thick forest. Memories of before torment the back of his thoughts, yet he still runs with the girls always in sight. The smell of damp soil and bark overtakes the screaming machines and the smell of burning flesh.
It’s a relief, he thinks, smelling the traces of rain. He pauses. The girls have stopped running.
One of them points off to a nearby clearing, one outlined by a circle of rocks with four logs sitting around the edges. A small fire pit sits neatly in the middle. She asks if they can rest there. Still starving for air, leaning against a tree, he responds. “Sure, sweetie, I’ll be right there when I catch my breath.” It’s not a single voice that escapes him, but a myriad of voices. The girls chatter away as they walk to the clearing – blissfully unaware of their crushed mother.
There’s a flash of white.
A soldier, separate from the rest, stands off to his left.
There was no screaming machine held in its hands. He tries to make a shout – nothing comes out – and he turns to where the clearing was. Around him stood soldiers in white, their faces blank and stepping ever closer on crumbling leaves. Blood pounds in his head – panic – and a phantom hand draws his sight to the empty-handed soldier. Something focuses his sight somewhere in the mess of a blank template before the mask splits and curls into five – a mouth grins beneath. A slam to his chest, a retching from his throat, eyes jumping from soldier to soldier, watching them raise their bellowing machines to him and let loose screaming fire.
Or was it his own; but it can’t be.
Thick liquid bubbles over his lips and he tries to swallow it back; choking and spitting as it increased and dribbles over the creases of his mouth, around the chin, down his neck and chest before dropping on the burning leaves. He’s drowning in his own bile.
Claws dig somewhere in his stomach and up across his lungs, piercing and pushing more blood in his mouth, my mouth, and digs into his heart and his throat, where it becomes lodged. Make it stop, it hurts – it pulls his tongue apart – suffocating – it grabs his face and jaw with two hands, pulling itself up and over. Jaws split in two and flesh tears from ear-to-ear. The flames double, torching his barely shaped form. Pain is to less of a way to describe it, something that can’t be put on a torn tongue, said with lips turn crisp, head with melting ears, or barely sensed with nerves in popping burnt skin. The thing in his mouth sits still – don’t leave me – hear hears himself think.
It bellows. Pulling its body upward and out, splitting his skull and skin as it ascends, eyeballs pop from pressure and heat like a pair of punctured cysts. It waits for a second before breaking free of the solidified husk he has become, left to roast as the shape of whatever crawled from him runs into the dark. His shape begins to crumble beneath building pressure, gasping through the flames before cool air kicks him conscious to reality. He’s staring at the ceiling, watching ribbons flutter back and forth from the vent over his bed. A swelling still lingers in his throat, his heart thumps violently against his ribs, tubes rock through his stomach and throat as he tries to breathe himself calm. It’s difficult.
His face. He tries to reach for his face, pulling against the binds pinning his wrists against cold metal by thick leather straps. This could still be a dream, or it could be true – he just wants to wake up.
With each following yank, needles wiggle and tape tugs at the skin of his limbs. In ever jolt there is a tightening in his chest that follows just after. If he breaks free, if he could break free, was there a trap waiting for him, he worries. He pulls against the bindings again.
Eventually he tires himself out, rendered to watch ribbons flutter above in the gust of the air conditioner. Sunlight bleeds through the off-white curtains just out of his sight. There was no doctors hovering around, thankfully, or any white figures. Just the ribbons and sunshine with empty bed sides.
I’m sore, but lax. Something holds my head towards the ceiling. Can only look as far as my eyes can take me. I think of nothing, counting the time with the ribbons fluttering above. With mind and hands I keep track of the time.
One, two, three… fifty-nine, and sixty – one minute, thumb touches the metal rail. At five minutes, a finger on the right hand goes down. At fifteen, I’m edging off the sleep.
Then the curtains flutter, the rings around the rod move at the arrival of someone. There is a faint tap of something on one of the metal rail, as a person passes the edge of my vision. He’s ignoring me – I don’t get a chance to see his face. They’re looking at something to my right, and they freeze when I tap the metal rail. A few seconds later, there is rush of cold air and dizziness sets in. I can’t hold my breath, because it’s coming into the tubes stuffed down my throat. So I cough, and copper touches my tongue. It stops and I try to look over at him – the brace keeps me from turning. I can only see a head of hair before there is another blast of the cold air.
… … …
He’s tasting blood again.
Spitting and coughing. Something tries to shove a suction onto his face. Hands at his throat – they sqeeze – pushing – pulling – something out. The little commotion he hears are traces of whispers, detached from the hectic gropes and pulls of the white shapes standing in his sight. The grey shields are up again – no reflection – a one-way mesh.
It all continues and the pain makes him pull against the ties on his wrists and legs, trying to stop the pain and the people. They are doing this to him; over a dozen of them are staring – taking him apart. The suction grabs his face, throws him out of sync.
The next time he opens his eyes, its back to the fluttering ribbons dancing in artificial light – I know it’s nighttime. How do I know? I don’t know. I won’t question it.
At the edge of my vision the curtain moves, hinting at the someone’s entrance. It was a doctor, of course it was, and he leans over to stare me down; he’s saying something I can’t hear. He snaps his fingers in front of my face, saying something to himself or to me. I can’t tell. He looks off to the side maybe talking to another person in the room then back to me. He holds up a hand and moves it over to the right and snaps; I hear it, but when he moves his hand to the left I hear nothing. He doesn’t move until I motion to the left.
The doctor maybe handed something to his mysterious assistant, saying something to him or her before leaving my sight. The curtain rings roll around the rounded bar again, and again I am left alone. Alone with my heartbeat, the needles in my wrists, and fresh bandaging from below my jaw and around my neck.
It wasn’t a dream, they did something to me.
A while later the curtains shift again. The doctor stands at my left, another person on the right, and the doctor tries to speak to me. I just stare.
The brace on my head loosens, pain flares within my head. The blockage that kept his head still is removed out of his line of sight. A pair of hands belonging to the assistant holds his head off to the right, exposing the left side to the doctor. He can only see the green gloves and white sleeves – then the pain sends another jolt as something inside his head turns – like a key unlocking a door. It tugs and pushes until it comes out in a dripping mess. Another fabric wipes away the blood from the hole in his head – his ear, he supposes. In the time it takes for the doctor the wipe away all the wet and dry blood the AC kicks up three times, he doesn’t count on his fingers. He could hear faint snippets of the doctor-assistant conversation, but it was too quiet and wiping away blood kept it that way until the doctor pushes something in.
“Can you hear me?”
A weak ‘yes’ is all I can say; my throat still hurts.
“Careful Andrew, you’re still recovering.” The doctor and assistant snap the brace back into the locked position, the doctor motions to the assistant before turning back to me. “You’ve inhaled a lot of smoke, you still need rest. But I suppose you want to know for how long, right?” I nod the best I could with the damn brace still holding my head in place. “It’s been about five months, but I can’t say everything right now with you in your current state. Within the month, Mr. Pottarus, we’ll talk.” With that, the doctor and his assistant leave, pulling the curtains back around its path. A heavy door somewhere slams, something clucks into place. Again, I’m alone.
Good, then that means I can think without interruptions, to rest, to process the handful of information the doctor gave me. First on the list was my name, Andrew, Mr. Pottarus – My name is Andrew Pottarus and I was ‘out’ for five months after an accident or something. Inhaled a lot of smoke, damaged throat, maybe mostly deaf. Fractured bones, maybe? Hard to tell.
Nevertheless, I can try to test my muscles, get a sense of how hurt I am or not. My face might’ve been the first, but I was too well aware of how much it hurts.
Start from the bottom up.
Toes. Feet. Calves. Knees. Thighs. Pelvis and hips. Stomach. Then up to –
I stretch and retract the mystery muscles and the wraps around my body tightens – something was pushing it up. Arm like muscles work beneath the sheets, two pairs of working below the arms above the sheets. So I count fingers – starting from top to bottom
One, two, three, four, five, one hand – ten fingers, two hands, one pair of arms. Fifteen fingers, three hands – twenty fingers, four hands, two pairs. Twenty-five fingers, five hands – thirty fingers, six hands, three pairs.
He lies there in bed staring at the ceiling, swallowing down a growing sore. The tubes inside his throat thump against one another, the tightening in his throat makes it hard to swallow them down.