25 - Chris
I've never been so unprepared for anything in my life.
Well, that's an overstatement. I don't think I was ever prepared for a crazy, murdering maniac. Or that he would turn out to be Josh. Or that we'd be almost mauled by a hoard of wendigos.
But this is about fourth on the list.
"Ah, Christopher," Dr Hill greets us as we click open the door to his office. My breath hitches, almost recoiling. He's just standing there, right in front of us, like he was hovering in front of the door, awaiting our arrival. His office is dark. Atmospheric, probably. The unsavoury wallpaper has spread into this room too, like a fungus, but it's overshadowed by the dark wood furniture. From the filing cabinet at the back of the room, to the panelling creeping half way up the walls, to the daunting desk positioned perfectly in the centre of the room. Everything curls and creeps, even if they aren't moving. They push me, compress me, shoving me back out the door.
I grit my teeth and dig my heels into the – of course – dark wood floor. I'm not leaving. Not when this could be the only place we could get some answers. Ashley's eyes are just as fastened onto Dr. Hill as mine are, determined, even though I can sense that her anxiety could kick her legs out from under her. I reassuringly find the small of her back to assure her that, if it does, I'll be there to catch her. I always am.
And she'll be there for me.
Dr. Hill has been grinning far too pleasantly for far too long, his eyes almost forgetting to flicker to Ash. "And, how lovely, Ashley. What a pleasant surprise." His eyes are permanently creased at the corners, either from too many years of eye smiling or something else entirely.
"How does he-" Ashley hisses, her pulse quickening underneath my palm, glancing to me for some kind of reassurance from me. Right now, I feel just as wary as her. But I hold my head up high and let the door fall slowly back into it's frame with a click. An non-confrontational kind of door. Shame. We won't be able to storm out of here with a satisfying slam of the door.
Ashley's words are cut off by Dr. Hill's own, like he's biting off her tongue. With a practiced sweep of his arms, he smiles politely. "Now, come on in, don't be shy," he ushers us in, offering us two armchairs set out neatly in front of his desk. How convenient.
"Thanks," I mutter through tensed teeth, shrugging one shoulder uncomfortably. But I stare him down anyway. He seems completely unfazed, oblivious to my warning glares through the lenses of my glasses, continuing to smile regardless. That smile has been pinned onto his face the minute we stepped through his door. It's making me uncomfortable.
Yet he has some kind of persuasive power over me. I shuffle further into the room, finding one of the armchairs. Ashley looks at me with wary, but at least something good from that night on the mountain has sustained in our minds; never separate. So instead of arguing, she follows close behind, cautiously taking the seat beside me, the one closest to the door.
I nod, making a mental note. Escape route one noted.
I glance to the right of Dr. Hill – who has now circled round to the seat in front of us, behind the desk – a large arched window stretches up halfway up the wall, spilling a bluish, greyish light into the room.
Escape route two noted.
"Now," Dr. Hill's chair creaks as he lowers himself down into it, clasping his hands together on his desk. "I suppose we should have some introductions. I'm," he lifts one vein riddled hand to his chest. "Dr. Alan Hill-"
"Yes," I say bluntly, on the border of scoffing. But my voice shakes as I speak, my throat closing up, attempting to hide it. "It's on the brass plate attached to the door."
"And here," Ashley adds, pressing her finger against the metal, desk name plate sitting in front of her.
"And," I nod, feeling more confident. After all, it is two against one here. We might as well get to the bottom of whatever the hell this is. "We saw it on here." I pull out the appointment card from my pocket which is now slightly curved from my constant sitting I've been doing for the best of the last half an hour.
"Ah," Dr. Hill nods understandingly. He seems pleasant enough – always pleasant enough – but there's something eerie about the dark wisps of hair escaping his comb-back, about the sharp bridge of his nose, of the creases along the side of his mouth, like they're keeping secrets. It sucks for whoever was hired to decorate this part of the hospital; no matter how much they tried to make it feel comfortable, this guy doesn't feel homely at all. "I suppose you're wondering why you're here then."
"If that wasn't obvious already," I retort, taking a deep breath in. I'm trying to look confident but my fingers are fidgeting underneath the desk and I'm praying that we'll find out whatever the hell this guy wants with us as soon as possible so we can escape and shake off the creeping feeling off our backs. But Ashley doesn't seem as anxious as me right now. She is far too captivated by some scattered documents on the desk, her eyes scanning the words upside down. And for brief moments, I catch glimpses of recognition on her features, before they crease back to concentration.
I can see Dr. Hill casually look over to her but he doesn't seem at all bothered by her actions. It's like he already knows she too curious for her own good. No psychologist could have determined that so quickly, could they?
"Well, firstly, I'll have to get you to sign one of these," he rolls out one his drawers within the desk, rifles within it and pulls out two sheets of bounded paper, chunks of text dripping down on both pages identically.
"Take your time," he smiles gently, his skin stretching along wrinkles. It gives me the chills. "Feel free to read it." He drops his clasped hands into his lap, leaning back leisurely, shrugging to make his point. "It's essentially just about confidentiality, nothing to worry about."
I eye him cautiously, narrowing my eyes. The page looks daunting, like its staring me down, daring me to sign it. I swallow. Ashley has already taken her copy in her hands and is avidly reading each word. I bet Dr. Hill was using this to his advantage, to sweep away the documents she'd been trying to read before.
I feel a smug smile tug at the side of my mouth when I see him do just that. But Ashley tugs at my arm, dragging away my attention. She's looking up at me, offering me look that assures me there's nothing worrying on here. I nod in understanding, trusting her.
Dr. Hill smiles as he watches us. Like he knows. Like he knows exactly who we are and what we are to each other.
But, whatever the hell he thinks, the important thing is that I know that signing this pointless agreement is the only way to get whatever information we came here for out of him. So, as confidently as I can, I reach forward and pluck a pen from his metal tub – definitely not something found in Ikea – and quickly scrawl my signature across the line, accompanied by the date. Quick and painless. Just like ripping off a band-aid.
I pass the pen to Ashley who trustingly takes it, our fingers brushing, before she becomes engrossed in re-reading the paper... just to be sure.
"Now," Dr. Hill looks pleased as he invites himself back into the conversation, "All the formalities have been dealt with, I suppose we should get back to business." His eyes narrow, the skin creasing even more so at the corners, as he stretches his lips upwards. He coughs casually, clearing his throat. "You.. both of you, have been very helpful to me."
Now that gets Ashley's attention.
She snaps her head up. "What?" Her voice seems small and wheezy, like someone is squeezing on her windpipe.
Dr. Hill gladly focuses his attention on her. I want to strike forward and wrench his face away from hers, to stop his greasy eyes from sliding all over her. "I don't think," he continues like neither of us have said anything. "I would have been able to..." He's searching for the right words, swaying one hand in the air in case his fingers could catch them. "Succeed with my... research without your cooperation."
"What research?" I narrow my eyes, my breathing getting faster and sharper in my throat. What the heck is wrong with this guy?
"I believe you already are aware of what I mean," he smiles pleasantly. Which makes it all the more disturbing. And then he pushing himself out of his chair, the leather squeaking as he does, and casually strolls to the filing cabinets behind him. I anxiously tap my fingers against my thighs as my knee bobs up and down. Ashley glances at me, her eyes wide, uncertain, panicking. I reach out to grab her hand, squeezing it. A silent I love you.
Then Dr. Hill returns, two files in his hands, the paper folders thick and bulging. As if they are birthday presents, he presents them towards us, his cheeks bulging as he smiles.
Eyeing him like a snake, I cautiously reach forward and take the folder before he can snap at me. I watch Ashley taking my actions as an okay to take her folder too. Then we rest them in our laps, opening the covers at the same time, in sync.
And there they are, neatly in a pile, dated and timed in perfect organisation. The exact photos that are on that site. All the ones with me in it. A collection? For my... file?
Ashley gasps. She stares up in horror, incredulous at Dr. Hill. "It was you?!"