"The power's off. It's safe to go in now."
Voices, off in the distance. Then noises, wet footsteps, and someone taking his wrist.
Stabbing light. First the right eye, then the left.
"Pupils are dilated."
Something had happened. There had been an accident, a crash or an explosion, lots of broken glass and water, and pain.
"Pulse is weak and erratic..."
The voices faded, along with everything else, as Taye Sullivan's world ceased to exist.
For 2 minutes and 17 seconds, according to the paramedics, he was dead.
There was no tunnel, no floating above the room, none of the things he'd always associated with dying. Everything had just suddenly stopped.
And now it was starting back up again. He could feel his mind rebooting, as his thoughts tried to collect themselves back into some kind of coherent form.
There was a loud wailing in the distance, probably a siren, and he could hear it getting steadily closer.
It was very loud, and the nearer it came, the less it sounded like a siren at all. It was more like a piercing scream, so loud now that it was causing the bones of his skull to resonate with the sound of it.
It was a now clearly a human voice, but one so terrified as to almost strip it of its humanity.
Taye tried to move, to get away from the awful shriek, but it was everywhere. He opened his eyes, recoiling from the bright, painful light, and looked up at the paramedics, who were frozen in place, staring at him with a look of absolute horror.
Stunned, he closed his mouth, silencing the terrible scream.
"Try to stay calm," one of the paramedics said, glancing nervously at the other, "We're going to get you to a hospital."
"What happened?" Taye croaked, causing his throat to add to the chorus of pain he felt everywhere else.
"There was an accident. Don't try to talk."
Taye looked at the shattered room, ignoring the throbbing pain in his eyes. He was in a restaurant. He'd been having lunch. He suddenly remembered sweet-and-sour soup, and flying glass, and something hitting his table.
As the paramedics moved him to the ambulance, he could hear their feet splashing in the standing water that covered the room. There were broken tables and dead fish everywhere, and low murmurings as other paramedics helped the other wounded people.
Taye closed his eyes, enjoying the relative relief that came with the slight decrease in pain. It was far too bright in here. Even with his eyes shut, he could see the grey ghosts of light leaking through his eyelids.
Aquarium. Utility Pole. One piece at a time, his scrambled brain kept trying to reconstruct what had happened.
He had been having lunch at his favourite restaurant, as he did pretty much every day. He'd been sitting at his usual table, staring absently at the large aquarium while crumbling noodles into his soup. Suddenly the side of the tank had burst outwards violently, throwing water, fish and shards of glass into the room, and a utility pole had crashed into his table, knocking him backwards and demolishing the chair across from him.
He had a brief moment of panic before remembering that Jaclyn hadn't been here today. On just about any other day, she would've been sitting across from him, covering her spring rolls with that spicy mustard that she loved so much, and chatting with him about their respective mornings.
Jaclyn was out of town. She'd had to leave suddenly last night and wouldn't be back until tomorrow. Taye felt a tear of relief escape from the corner of his eye.
At the time, he'd been disappointed. Their daily lunches were really the only meals they could count on spending together. Most nights one or both of them usually ended up having to work late, so dinners were pretty hit or miss.
In his mind, he could see the pole smashing into the table, flipping it over and sliding down onto the chair, splintering it instantly. No one would've survived that.
Taye shuddered, suddenly feeling cold. His head was pounding, and his eyes felt two sizes too big for their sockets, but he was alive. He was alive, and Jaclyn hadn't been here.
Things definitely could've been worse.
[end excerpt from Chapter 1]
Taye took back the pen and marked through what he'd written, then signed his name again, this time paying careful attention as he formed each letter.
Once he was done, and had verified for himself that he had signed it correctly, he handed the paper and the pen back.
"Sorry about that," he said, trying to keep his expression even as he picked up his overnight bag.
"Uh, no problem," the man said, looking down at the signature, "You, uh... have a good day."
"Thanks," Taye smiled, even though he felt more like screaming, or running away, maybe both, "You too."
"What was that all about?" Jaclyn asked, after the man had left the room.
"I don't know," Taye shrugged, "I guess he just couldn't make out my signature, so I signed it again." In six years of marriage, it was the first time that he had ever intentionally lied to his wife about anything.
"Yeah, weird," he echoed, "Can we go home now?"
"Sounds like a plan to me," she said, smiling.
Taye smiled back, grateful that the sunglasses kept her from seeing the fear in his eyes.
[end excerpt from Chapter 2]
Taye sat alone in the darkness, staring into the shadows. This was the second night in a row that he'd gone without sleep, and he could feel fatigue bearing down on him. He just wasn't ready to face sleep, not yet.
He sat on the sofa and listened. He could almost make out some of the words now, and he wasn't sure which scared him the most: the fact that he couldn't understand them yet or the idea that he might eventually be able to.
One thing he was sure of though; they were talking to him, or at least about him - he wasn't sure which. He hadn't decided yet if they were trying to warn him, or if they were somehow in league with whatever it was that was after him, but either way it seemed like a good idea to try to figure out what they were saying.
He no longer questioned his sanity. He knew that he probably had tinnitus, and he was still planning to take the hearing test in the morning. He also knew that lack of sleep was taking its toll on him as well, and some part of him even realised that it was probably affecting his judgement. Somehow though, it just didn't seem relevant.
Taye knew that something was going on. He could feel it. It was a real as anything ever had been. It was out there somewhere, and it was coming after him. One day, he didn't know how soon, it was going to break through the wall and get him.
There was nothing he could do to stop it; all he could hope for was to delay it, long enough so that he could work out what was going on, long enough so he could be sure that Jaclyn and Trish would be safe.
Until then, he had to try to carry on as if nothing was wrong, and make sure they never, ever found out the truth.
[end excerpt from Chapter 3]
Taye slowly stood up, straightened his clothes, and looked around. Thankfully his vision seemed to have returned to normal, at least for the moment.
The other people on the sidewalk were all staring at him, some offering assistance, and others going out of their way to avoid him.
He assured them that he was okay, the state of his clothing notwithstanding, and then took out his cell phone and called a taxi.
While he waited for the cab to arrive, he paced around nervously. He should've tried to do something, tried to save them somehow, but he wasn't sure what he actually could've done. Warn the driver? Hijack the bus? Neither approach seemed likely to have accomplished anything, not anything positive anyway.
Still, he felt guilty. He had known what was going to happen, and all he'd done was save himself. It seemed shameful and cowardly, and he hated himself for it.
He tried to convince himself that he was wrong, that he didn't know what he thought he did, but in his mind he kept seeing those horrible faces staring back at him from the doomed bus.
[end excerpt from Chapter 4]
"Mr. Sullivan," the psychiatrist said calmly, "I'd like for you to agree to have yourself checked into Millridge."
"Millridge," Taye repeated, "The mental institution."
Jaclyn squeezed his hand, reminding him that she was there to support him during this very difficult and confusing time. He had to fight to keep from pulling away from her reassuring touch.
"The Psychiatric Hospital, yes," the doctor said, "It would just be for a few days, maybe a week. And by signing in voluntarily, you'd be able to sign yourself out at any time."
Taye stared down at the floor, still refusing to let himself look at the doctor. It was very disconcerting trying to carry on a conversation with someone who had a gaping wound in the middle of his chest.
"Do I really have a choice?" Taye asked.
"Of course," the doctor replied.
The man was obviously lying. If Taye didn't agree to this, they would simply have him committed. He tilted his head sideways, listening intently as the voices concurred with his appraisal of the situation.
"Mr. Sullivan?" the psychiatrist said, "Taye?"
"I'm still here," Taye said. He could feel the doctor looking at him, trying to get inside his head.
Trust me, Doc; you wouldn't like it in here.
[end excerpt from Chapter 5]
"I have to say, Mr. Sullivan," the psychiatrist said, looking down at the file on his desk, "I am very pleased with how well you're doing. You've made remarkable progress, in a very short amount of time."
"Thank you, Dr. Bailey," Taye said.
"It's only been two weeks since the, ah, unfortunate incident with Dr. Branxton, and in that time you have made notable improvements in just about every area."
Taye still felt guilty about what had happened with Professor Branxton. He had tried to apologise, but the man was simply terrified of him now, and went out of his way to avoid him.
In many ways, Taye felt that he owed Professor Branxton a debt of gratitude. It was that confrontation that had jarred him enough to force him to realise just how insane his thinking had become.
"According to your Councillors," Dr. Bailey continued, "You've really been opening up and I want to encourage you to continue to do so. I honestly believe that's going to be the key to long term mental health."
The meds help too.
Taye had almost immediately agreed to start taking medication, and once they'd worked out the right meds and dosages, it had made an enormous difference.
He still had all of the same physical symptoms: dilated eyes, tinnitus, and the occasional headache, but the visions and dreams were gone, and the noises he heard were just noises now; the voices had been banished.
Sometimes he would still hear the hint of a voice buried inside the static, or he would see a faint trace of something from the corner of his eye, but they no longer forced their way into his consciousness, and he was able to ignore them.
The world seemed a bit flatter, faded somehow, as if it wasn't quite as "real" any more, but that was a small price to pay to be rid of those nightmare thoughts and images.
"You'll need to stay on your meds, of course," Dr. Bailey added, mirroring Taye's own thoughts, "We'll monitor them closely, but I think we've found the right balance for the moment. I'll also want you to continue with your sessions on an out-patient basis. Therapy once a week to start, and group at least every two weeks." He made a notation on Taye's chart. "We'll eventually cut back the frequency, after we see how you're doing."
It was starting to sound as if Dr. Bailey was talking about sending him home.
"Are you sending me home?" Taye asked, hope creeping into his voice.
Technically, Taye could check himself out any time he wanted, since he'd signed in voluntarily, but having decided to start giving his treatment a serious chance, he was determined to stick with it, until Dr. Bailey felt he was ready to leave.
"That's the plan," Dr. Bailey said, smiling, "I'd like for you to finish out your sessions for the day, but when your wife visits you this afternoon, I see no reason you can't go home then."
[end excerpt from Chapter 6]
"I don't understand," Taye said, "Why can't I see her?"
"I assure you," Dr. Bailey said, "You'll get to see your sister. I just need to discuss a few things with you first." He sat down, and motioned for Taye and Jaclyn to do the same. "Please, have a seat."
"What happened?" Taye asked, "Why is Trish here?"
"There was an incident at the bookstore where she works," the psychiatrist explained, "She became very upset, and one of her co-workers had to call for help."
"An incident? What kind of incident?"
"Apparently she just suddenly started crying and then began shouting things at the customers and refusing to let anyone come near her," Dr. Bailey said, "I tried to speak with her when they brought her in, and she seems to be suffering from some very serious emotional trauma."
"You mean like what happened to me?" Taye asked, "How is that possible? I thought my... condition... was caused by my accident."
"I'm afraid I may have been mistaken about that," Dr. Bailey replied, "Sometimes these things can also have a genetic component. In light of what's happening with your sister, I now think it's much more likely that your accident was simply a trigger for your illness, not its cause."
"Okay then," Taye said, "What triggered Trish then? Even if it is somehow hereditary, isn't it just a little strange that it would show up so suddenly in both of us, within a month of each other?"
"Yes," Dr. Bailey admitted, "But since you're both the same age, that may not be quite as odd as it might seem at first glance."
Taye had a strong feeling that there was something else that the psychiatrist wasn't telling him. There was something about his eyes; he seemed spooked by something.
"Why here though?" Taye asked, "Why Edgewood? Why isn't she in Millridge, like I was?"
"I'm afraid her condition is much more severe than yours was," Dr. Bailey said, "That was pretty clear, from the moment I first saw her."
"Did she say anything?" Jaclyn asked, her hand lying gently on Taye's arm, "When you talked to her, did she tell you what was wrong?"
"I couldn't get much out of her," Dr. Bailey said, "She just kept saying the same thing, over and over again." He paused. "She just kept repeating, 'But I was never even there'."
[end excerpt from Chapter 7]
"Just keep talking to her," Taye whispered, as he stood up.
Jaclyn nodded, and turned back towards Trish.
Taye walked slowly around the room, watching the other patients as his sister continued rambling to Jaclyn. They appeared to be muttering to themselves, but the truth was that they were simply moving their lips in sync to everything that Trish was saying.
It turned out that not all of them were participating, and none of the staff appeared to be, but most of the patients were silently mouthing his sister's words.
Taye walked down the hall, and looked into some of the rooms. Even these patients, who couldn't possibly hear what she was saying, seemed to be doing the same.
He made his way back to the Common Area, and rejoined Jaclyn and his sister.
"It's like singing, but with no music," Trish said, accompanied by her silent mimics.
"Are they all doing it?" Jaclyn asked.
"Most of them," Taye said, "Even the ones that are in their rooms. Seems to be just patients though."
"I don't understand how this is possible," Jaclyn said.
"Neither do I," Taye said, "But whatever it is, it's happening, so it must be possible." He paused. "I mean, you do see it too, right? I'm not imagining this."
"I see it," Jaclyn said, "I don't know that I believe it, but I'm definitely seeing it."
[end excerpt from Chapter 8]
Suddenly, he remembered...
"The power's off. It's safe to go in now."
There had been voices, off in the distance. Then noises, wet footsteps, and someone taking his wrist.
Stabbing light. First the right eye, then the left.
"Pupils are dilated."
"Pulse is weak and erratic..."
Then the voices had faded, along with everything else, as Taye Sullivan's world ceased to exist, and he found himself somewhere else.
This wasn't death, and it wasn't his destination. He was caught between his old life and some other place, perhaps oblivion, perhaps not. No, this was something else, far removed from everything he'd ever known, and he somehow knew that he wasn't supposed to be here.
It was cold, and dark, and the ground was hard beneath his feet. He was standing beside an ocean, which was rolling and twisting in a way that he found oddly disturbing. Above his head stretched an endless black sky, devoid of stars. This was not just some other planet; it was someplace much further away than that.
He was vaguely aware of being connected, forward and back, to both where he'd been and whatever lay ahead, and he could feel himself being pulled in both directions.
He was also not alone.
There was something here, something alive, and immense, and it terrified him. He could feel his heart racing as he scanned the darkness, unable to see more than dim shapes and flickering shadows.
It didn't know he was here. As long as it didn't see him, as long he stayed hidden, he would be safe. He crouched down close to the ground, forcing himself to breathe slowly and quietly. Not much longer. Forward or back, one way or the other, he would be leaving here soon.
Then it saw him.
It knew him, hated him, and wanted him. Its power and malevolence washed over him, and it took all of his willpower just to keep from surrendering to it.
Just a few more seconds.
He could feel it searching for him. All around him were scuttling, clicking noises, as something crawled across the hard ground.
It grabbed him. Sleek black tentacles slammed into him, wrapped around him. It knew he didn't belong, that he wasn't even entirely here, and it cautiously probed along his connections to find out where he'd come from.
One of the tentacles snapped back, as if shocked at the taste of our world. Then it held him tighter, as more tentacles swarmed out of the night towards him.
Now! Must go now!
He felt a tentacle press against his face, pushing its way through his skull, and into his brain. His head was on fire, as his ears rang and his eyes exploded with blinding light.
He screamed, and screamed, and carried on screaming, as he fell back into the world.
[end excerpt from Chapter 9]
As the days passed, their ranks continued to grow, and with it the sense that they were rapidly running out of time.
Taye took an extended leave of absence from work, so that he could spend his mornings at Edgewood visiting his sister and Professor Branxton, but mainly so that he could be close enough to the other patients to study the connection between them, in the hopes of finding a way to stop the coming apocalypse.
He had up to six weeks available, if he needed them, but he honestly felt that it was unlikely that he would ever be able to return to his job. One way or another, he didn't expect to still be around in a month.
With every new person, the link became stronger, and harder to resist. There were times now, especially when he was at Edgewood, when Taye could feel that he was on the edge of losing his individuality altogether, and he knew that the day was coming when there would nothing left of them but a single group mind, and shortly after that there would be nothing left of them at all.
Most days by noon, he had to go home, just to try to clear his head reassert his sense of self. He could still feel the others pressing in on him, but so far it was still manageable from that distance.
Most evenings, when Jaclyn got home from work, they would go back to Edgewood and she would sit with Trish, while he found a quiet, unobserved corner where he could explore the link. He wasn't sure exactly what he was looking for, but he still held hope that the key to defeating or destroying this thing was to be found there.
The others were less than convinced by his assertion that it was possible, but for even the small chance, they were willing to do whatever they could to help him try.
"I still think you're assigning human motivations to a creature that doesn't possess them," Professor Branxton said. Taye was no longer able to prevent himself from mouthing the words of the other patients, and many times he would even find himself vocalising them.
"I don't know what it's motivations are," Taye said, "I only know that it tried to turn me against Jaclyn and you, and the two of you have proven to be absolutely essential for me to be able to have any chance of hanging on to my sanity and working out what's going on. I don't think that's a coincidence."
"Doubtful, I admit."
"And it had tried to make me kill Freakshow," Taye said, "But I don't think that was because it sees him as threat, but rather because of what killing him would do to me." He paused. "I think there's a way to stop it, and it knows that, and it knows with your help and Jaclyn's, I can figure it out and pull it off, whatever it is."
"I'm with you," Professor Branxton said, "You know that. It's just that... You can feel it, can't you?"
Taye nodded, no longer even phased by the fact that the Professor did the same. "It's getting closer."
"If there is an answer," Professor Branxton said, "We'd better figure it out pretty soon, because we don't have much time left."
[end excerpt from Chapter 10]