The card sat as if placed by an unseen hand, held pinched between leather bound covers and cream paper stock. The anger that had sent the pile of journals and patient files flying across the room dissipated as Claudia ruefully approached the scattered leaves of her frustrated outburst. She sunk to her knees, her fingers brushing the papers.
“I can’t do this,” she said aloud.
'MORALLY? OR ARE YOU NOT CAPABLE?' came the familiar growl.
"I can't. I can't. ..I am just so tired."
She was used to not sleeping, but this was different. This wasn't watching the world pass by the bay window and reading by candle light until the bakery across the street opened. This was every hour blurring into a discontented grey light that lit pages detailing tortures on patients both familiar and strange. Tortures she knew better than any, and who's collateral damage she had cleaned up, more often than not, while their breath still lingered.
This was every time she looked up from the page, the sobbing voice of her brother asking her to try harder, begging for his Alina...something she could be working on if she could just figure out how to fix him first...she was not sure at all that Alina was the cure...especially for Cookie's problems, and restoring her before she fixed them could make Baelian even harder to negotiate.
Not that either of them were talking to her. Not that she had anything to say.
And what, when they were fixed? What if they didn't heal? What if they left? What if they became self destructive? What if they turned on her? What of Asinoe? Where was the personal rights of each personality? What if he got worse? What if she made it worse?
Her spinning thoughts fragmented into shards, into sand, into dust and threatened to drown her before suddenly leaving her gasping, and with no idea how long she had been kneeling.
"I am so tired," she echoed hollowly.
'How do you feel?' came another, smaller voice.
"I can't feel anything anymore."
She sat numbly on the floor for what could have been hours before she started to gather up the files once more. Her fingers hovered over the card and she frowned. She hadn't seen this before. She plucked the card up and a piece of paper came with it. A bronze logo was emblazoned on the thick card stock with familiar handwriting underneath...
She flipped the card over, looking for more clues. Three words. A Latin motto embossed. She tilted it to the light hesitantly, before looking at the paper.
My Little Ella.
Her heart stopped. Someone was fucking with her. She scrambled to her feet, clutching the papers and stumbling over to her laptop. Three words. A logo like that...it couldn't be hard, but Google told her nothing.
She sighed, her hands hovering over the keyboard before adding the search term 'Kreutz.' Medical papers, conferences, funding bodies...it took some digging.
-Of course he wouldn't make this easy-
She found a number and dialled. No answer. She sighed, and dialled her driver.
It was mere hours before the rooms of Grand Elms were evacuated, according to the patients on record, by external security and doctors. A meningitis scare was nothing to take lightly.
Claudia walked the halls of the institute, her plane having arrived not 50 minutes earlier in order to 'handle' any media or health authority enquiries.
"It was all just a misunderstanding, but you can't be too careful," she would say, "The health of our patients is paramount."
A little routine blood work never hurt anyone, and what better way to clear everyone out of the centre?
-Everyone on file that is-
She ran her fingers along the inoffensively white walls of the corridors, her heels clicking on the polished wood floors.
Room 180...Room 181...
She stopped in front of room 182 - 'Storeroom.'
'NOTHING GOOD CAN COME FROM THIS.'
She lifted her hand and ran her fingers over the door handle.
"I would rather know," she said carefully, "I want to see what else he could do to me."
More voices chimed in, memories replayed, overlaying each other until the silent hallway became overwhelming and she lifted her thumb to the security plate. The click of the door unlocking silenced everything and she pushed the door open.
It took her a moment to register what she was looking at. The dark haired figure blinked up at her and tilted his head. His eyes weren't as blue as she expected, but watched her as she edged slowly to the foot of his bed and picked up the patient file.
"Jared Barnes. DID. Psychosis. Anxiety..." she read softly to herself, before staring at the form in the straightjacket, "First admitted - October 2013. Court order."
Her mind raced.
"Simon," came the tight reply, his voice husky from lack of use. He cleared his throat. "Simon Ellingford." She blinked. "Are you Claudia?" he asked. She nodded slowly. "Oh God," he moaned, making a sound half like a sob, half a laugh, "I was hoping you'd come."
She drank in the details...his hair had been dyed from it's natural deep brown to a blue-black and cut to a familiar style, perhaps a month ago, judging from the length and re-growth. No doubt someone was being paid to keep him looking as he did.
It was sick. The whole thing was sick. She could almost hear them all laughing from their graves.
"Are we going to leave here? I am terribly sick of this room. It's been years," came the raspy voice. She nodded absently and excused herself into the hall.
She leaned heavily on the cool white walls and pressed her forehead to the hard surface. Then she screamed. She screamed until she started to cry.
"Goddamn it. Fuck. FUCK!"
'You can't....it isn't right. you were a lab rat yourself...you can't play with someone's mind...you'll be no better than him.'
'Then what? Experiment on Jasper? Your brother?'
'He isn't your brother.'
'There are so few treasures left. What are they if not the closest you have to family?'
'Meat. They are meat. Like every other animal on this piece of shit planet'
"Goddamn it. Fuck."
'Puppets. That's all we've ever been...'
'What happens to them all if he doesn't get better? It'll be on your head.'
'This is survival of the fittest.'
'Think of the medical implications.'
"Fuck. Fuck. Fuck."
When she walked back into the room, she was composed and smiling. 'Jared' watched her warily, no doubt having heard her little episode in the hallway, as she reached out a hand, but took it nonetheless. What choice did he have, really?
Carefully guiding him out of the room, through the hallways and outside, she clutched his file tightly to her chest. When they arrived at her car she ushered him into the back, fixing his hair and ignoring his confused look, loosening the straps on his jacket and straightening the way it sat. She fussed, then climbed in the other side, tapping the window between her and the driver with a single knuckle.
Her eyes closed and she sat back, settling into the leather seat and pulling out her phone to dial a less-than-familiar number.
"Scarlett? It's Lyra," she spoke clearly, wondering exactly what she should say on a voice message.
-You need to keep your future wife away from me because I am probably going to lose what is left of my mind. If she visits she will either ruin my concentration or get hurt. I can't have that. She is the only good thing about me anymore. I know she is your wife-to-be, but she is my other half. My light side. You won't understand...I won't tell you that. Everyone will look after everyone else. It will all be ok...after I fix it....-
"We need to talk. Call me when you can."
She hung up and fiddled with her phone, her eyes lifting to study the stranger beside her, He was blinking, squinting at the light, studying her and his surroundings in awed silence.
If she was going to do this, she would do it right. No trails. She bit her lip and sent a message to the lawyer, then smiled again.
"Simon?" she said.
"Hmm?" came the dry response.
"Do you drink Absinthe?"
Written by Luna Madness.
All characters and story lines remain the property of N.Ristovski and the Underground. All character writings within the Underground are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2016. Natalie Ristovski.