Chapter 2: The Hospital
She couldn’t believe it. It all felt like a dream. Except it wasn’t a dream. It was a nightmare—a cruel, living nightmare, one that she starred center stage in.
Fitfully, she dozed in the hours after the interrogations, during which time she dreamed of what the police had said. For hours, they’d drilled her over where she’d been, what she’d seen, how she’d come across the body. Her mother—Serena Jane Brown—was no longer a person. She was just the body, and with every passing second Scarlet was filled with horrible visions of what she’d witnessed.
Her torn neck—
Her bloodied corpse—
The creature, prone over her body—
Even in dream she could make no sense of it—of this violent, selfless act of brutality against the only parent she had left in the world. Each time she tried to approach it her subconscious refused her, creating flashback points to her meetings with social workers, doctors and, most humiliatingly, psychiatrists.
Acute stress reaction due to traumatic event had been the matter described, PTSD the diagnosis given. They’d pumped her full of drugs. Still, the nightmares came—and, Scarlet imagined, always would.
She woke to the sound of the heart monitor beeping at her side in what had to be Trinity Hospital, Shreveport, Louisiana’s most well-known medical facility. Darkness reigned supreme here, in this small room where nightmares came and dreams were destroyed. The lights were off, the monitors dimmed, leaving the LED lights streaming from their surfaces the only things that lit the room. Distantly she saw shadows in the hallway, passing by fixtures rooted to the ceiling. For one brief moment, she thought someone would walk in to check on her.
But no one came.
She was utterly, undeniably alone. Not even the social worker, whom had been in the room when they’d administered the sleeping drugs, remained.
Tears streamed down her face and the heart monitor at her side quickened as panic took over. It rose and fell in tune with the thoughts entering her head. Where would she go, she wondered, now that her mother was dead? Her father was long gone—killed in a car accident when she was just three years old—and her extended family might not have the means to take in a young woman who would soon come of age. Her aunt Susannah on her mother’s side would accept her with open arms. This she knew. But even then, she didn’t particularly get along with her cousins. And her uncle Matthew—he and his wife lived halfway across the country in California. Would they, as a newly-married couple, be willing to take her in? Just because they were bound by blood did not mean they would be willing or able, especially given her age.
She’s almost eighteen, they might say. Let her go to college. Live off student loans. Get a job and live life as she sees fit. She doesn’t need us.
But the truth of the matter was—she needed someone, anyone, to help her.
She wanted to scream. Wanted to cry. But she knew nothing would bring her mother back to life.
Mama, she thought as the monitor went blip, blip, blip.
She tried to move her hand to brush away her tears, but found resistance as an IV jabbed into her wrist.
Were they still pumping drugs into her, she wondered? Grimacing, she gently lowered her hand. Was that why she still felt swimmy? Because they were trying to keep her calm?
Did I speak? she thought. Did I tell them what I saw?
What had she seen though? A murderer? A monster? A—
No. That wasn’t possible. Vampires weren’t real. They were merely products of fantasy. But if it wasn’t a vampire who had brutalized and drank her mother’s blood, what had it been? An escaped felon? A psychotic murderer?
Prone, over her body, teeth bared, fangs extended, flesh hanging from its mouth as blood dripped from its—
This time, she did scream—a bloodcurdling sound that caused the hairs on the back of her neck to stand on end.
Though she expected someone to come, they didn’t. Instead, a click sounded from the hailing device at her side. A female voice said, “Miss? Are you all right?”
“I,” Scarlet started. “I don’t—”
The door opened.
Scarlet looked up.
A dark figure in a black coat and hat stood in the doorway, blocking out all light from the hallway.
“Miss… Brown?” the nurse asked, her voice masked by static. “Miss Brown? Are you… all right? Do you… need… someone… to—”
The remote device crackled with static before going dead.
The figure in black stepped forward. “You have bore witness,” he said, his voice deep and pleasant regardless of his intruding presence.
“Who are you?” Scarlet drew the blankets around her body. “And what’re you doing in my room?”
“You are to forget, now.What you saw.”
His voice blanketed her consciousness, dulling her emotions and causing the initial panic his presence created to fade. “What… did I see?” she frowned. “A… a vampire?”
He paused, as though startled by the word. “Did you say… vampire?” the man asked.
“Is that what it was? What killed my mother?”
“Who have you spoken these words to? The police? The social workers? Your doctors?” The man stepped forward and extended a hand over her face, as though ready to bear down upon her features with his smooth palm. “Never mind. It does not matter. You are to forget.”
“I don’t want to forget!” Scarlet cried. “I want that thing dead!”
The man hesitated again. This time, he reached out and wrapped his hands around the guards surrounding her bed and tightened his hold on them. Beneath his top hat, he was handsome—east Asian, with thick eyebrows, angular eyes and a jawline that appeared to have been cut from marble. He leaned forward to examine her with eyes so dark she couldn’t tell their color, and she frowned. “You… are agreeing to witness?” the man asked, his voice filled with both confusion and awe.
“I want that thing dead,” she replied, determination filling her voice.
Instead of responding, he straightened his posture and tilted his hat back to look at her. “You understand,” he said, “that once you have witnessed, you can never go back.”
“There’s no going back anyway,” Scarlet said. “My mother is dead.”
To this, he had no reply.
In the silence that followed, Scarlet listened to the sound of the heartbeat monitor and the slow, steady sound of her breaths—trying, with very little success, to not be afraid of the man and the words he’d imparted upon her. The stranger continued to watch her with his dark eyes—unmoving, unblinking. He seemed… odd, for some reason, like he wasn’t completely human. But that was ridiculous. Why wouldn’t he be human?
You are to forget, he’d said.
Was he a thief of thoughts, of memories, of moments in time in which horrible or wonderful things had happened?
Knowing she would never get to the bottom of the mystery unless she asked, Scarlet cleared her throat and asked, “Are you,” then stopped, unsure how to proceed with her question.
“Am I… what?” the man asked.
“Different?” she finished.
“I am part of a world you could have never possibly imagined,” he replied. “I am a shadow in the night—always lingering, forever persisting. I can make your nightmares disappear, your darkest thoughts go away. But here you are, wishing to face them… as if you are indeed a warrior. Tell me: are you sure this is the path you want to take?”
“I’d do whatever it takes to avenge my mother,” Scarlet said.
“Then come. Let us go.”
The man stepped around the stretcher, reached forward, and, with a simple press and tug, freed the IV from her wrist.
Scarlet grimaced as the pain flared along her hand, but nodded and slid out of bed, surprised to find she’d been stripped of her clothing and placed into a hospital gown. She looked up at the strange Asian man before her and frowned as he stared at her unblinkingly. “Do you have a name?” she asked. “I assume you already know mine.”
“I do,” the man said. “Call me Shadow.”
“All right, Shadow. What do we do now?”
“You come. We must leave. Now.”
“I can’t just walk out of here,” she replied. “Not like this. They’ll stop me.”
“No, they won’t,” Shadow said.
“Let me get dressed first.”
The man watched her intently, not bothering to turn.
“Can I have some privacy?” she asked.
The stranger faced the doorway as Scarlet disrobed and redressed in the clothes that’d been shucked from her body. The whole while she stared at the man’s back, his well-styled short hair, his pale white skin, and tried to determine what his motives were—and why, exactly, he was allowing her to come with him even though he seemed to serve some alternate purpose.
Frowning, Scarlet stepped forward, waiting until he opened the door and gestured for her to step out.
A nurse walking down the hall was immediately upon her. “Miss Brown,” she said, raising her hand as if to stop her. “You can’t leave yet. You need to be back in—”
She stopped, suddenly, as if struck by something that made her forget everything she was doing. Her expression softened, her eyes glazed over, and her mouth pursed into a silent frown. Then she turned and walked away without stopping to look back at them.
“Did you do that?” Scarlet asked—sensing, within the air, a static akin to electricity malfunctioning. She grimaced as the overhead lights flickered when Shadow stepped out of the room.
The man merely nodded and waved her forward.
They continued through the hospital at a leisurely pace, not stopping when anyone approached and simply passing those who seemed to ignore them quickly. Spherical security cameras embedded into ceilings sparked with unknown light and lights flickered whenever they passed under them—shielding, if only for a moment, their trek through the hospital. When they stepped into the front lobby, they strolled through without issue. Not a single soul turned to look at them as they exited through the front doors.
“What… are you?” Scarlet asked.
“I’m what you would call a Wiper,” the strange man said as they stepped into the humid night air. “I can make people forget things, make electronics malfunction.”
“What does that mean for me?” she frowned.
“That they will never know you were here.”
Behind them, a screeching noise entered her ears before the entire lobby darkened. A short moment later, the backup generators came on and lit the room in a pale amber light.
“Go,” Shadow said, signaling her onward. “My car is just outside.”
“Where are you taking me?” Scarlet frowned.
“The United States Agency for Supernatural Affiliations. Where the process of assimilation will begin.”
Assimilation? Scarlet frowned. Does that mean—
She was joining something?
Glancing up at the Wiper, she debated whether she should follow or simply run, but paused as the man set a hand on her shoulder. “Do not run,” he said. “You will simply forget.”
“You?” she asked.
“Everything,” the man said. “Your mother’s death. Her attack. The thing that killed her. Most importantly: you’ll forget your life.”
What did that mean? That he would wipe her memories, make her a husk of a person? Allow her to forget each and every memory that had occurred from the time she was born?
Knowing she could not escape now that she had willingly conscripted herself to this, Scarlet nodded and followed the man named Shadow toward a black Camaro in the nearby parking lot. Once they reached it, he unlocked it with a clicker on his keyring, opened the passenger side door, and rounded the vehicle after she crawled in.
“You will want to rest now,” he said. “This will be a long and arduous trip.”
“Can you…” She swallowed. “Make me sleep?”
“I can only make you forget. Now rest, Scarlet. We are in for a very long drive.”
Rather than question his motives, reasonings, or the boundless information he seemed to possess, she reached up, buckled herself into her seat, and watched as he pulled out of the parking lot—causing traffic to stop, lights to turn green, and passing policemen to simply ignore them as they made their way west out of town.
From that moment forward, there was no telling what would happen.
All Scarlet knew was that something was wrong.