Western State Hospital
There were three light knocks against the office door before it slowly opened, a nurse peering in curiously. “Doctor, you requested the files on Patient #267454-D?”
“Please set them on my desk.”
The woman placed a file on his desk, bulging with stacks of stapled white paper. Next to that, she set a small metal box. “These are all the paper notes and audio recordings collected since the patient was admitted in 2010.”
“Thank you, that will be all.” The doctor still hadn’t raised his eyes to meet her, his gaze transfixed on the iPad in his lap.
She turned to go, but as she reached the door she looked back. “Doctor, the patient . . . there’s something not right about him.”
He smiled absently, chuckling. “Technically, there’s something wrong with all of us. It’s the human condition.”
She appeared to grapple with an internal dispute, before silently leaving, the door clicking closed behind her. The doctor set the tablet down in its charging cradle, a touch of satisfaction in his face. The device was linked to a series of concealed wireless cameras he had installed in each of the rooms; motion sensitive and equipped for night vision, they would record any recorded sound or motion and upload it to a private server. In this way, he could observe their behavior patterns at any time.
Turning his attention to the file, he poured over the assembled papers. The testimonies and interviews with friends and family was the biggest stack, full of missing persons reports, social media posts, handmade fliers, and even transcripts of media interviews. Following the call from the Vermont State Patrol, his family had flown out to get him and brought him back home, mindlessly ecstatic to have their son back, but the reunion was not what they expected.
He had been gone for five years, but he looked as he had the morning he left for the lake. His hair was the same, as was his freshly shaven face. Even his clothes were the same, showing none of the wear and tear that one would expect them to after five years. He had not changed in appearance, but he was not the boy that they remembered. Justin had always been an energetic and impulsive boy, making up for his rather uninspired displays of intelligence with charisma and vivacity. This Justin was quiet and withdrawn, sullen. He rarely spoke, and when he did it showed a greater scope of intelligence than he had ever displayed. His vocabulary and quiet insight were off-putting to his friends and family, who described him as “dumb but lovable, like a big dog.” Even the family dog responded differently to him. Otis, a labrador that Justin had raised since a puppy, used to lope around the boy excitedly. Now he would stare for a second, then try to flee the room; once, when Justin made eye contact with the dog, the poor animal flung itself into a corner and began to shake uncontrollably, finally peeing itself.
Justin’s coma was the final straw. The stress was too much for Justin’s parents, who filed for divorce not long after. Justin’s mother, either unwilling or unable to give all of her time to the care of her son, turned him over to Western State under the strict instructions to “spare no expense in his care.” Justin’s mother died a month later in a drunk driving accident. His father simply disappeared.
The medical files came next and bore some equally gruesome information. Shortly after returning home, Justin began mutilating himself. Small bits that went unnoticed for a few weeks at first; a sudden interest in piercings and tattoos, some “accidental” cuts while cooking or tending the yard. It wasn’t until later that the severity of his issue came to light. Justin’s parents signed him up for a series of therapy sessions; he would see a counselor for a short time, usually for a few sessions but never longer than a month, but then he would be moved along to another private firm. His shortest times with a therapist where the ones where he would sit unresponsive, until the therapist lost their patience and urged his parents to find a different counselor that he might build a rapport with.
The longer sessions, the counselors that Justin opened up to, never lasted past a month because the psychologists committed suicide. Justin would speak to them in low tones that no one outside could overhear, but the administrative staff said they seemed . . . paler, more subdued. They seemed to be curling into themselves, wilting like flowers, though they all claimed the same thing; they were just tired, and in need of a vacation, maybe a cabin in the woods. Perhaps a macabre joke on their behalf, but for the string of grisly suicides that followed. By this time, Justin had reached a point of self mutilation that his parents could no longer ignore. Having run out of skin to tattoo and pierce, he had taken to dental modifications; slitting his tongue down the center, filing his teeth into sharp points. Finally, the police were called after Justin’s mother had walked in on her son, abrading himself with a zester. Justin was remitted to Western State Hospital for observation and care, the kind that involves a straight jacket and serious anti-psychotics.
Six months after his interment, Justin went catatonic. He was completely unresponsive, right down to an absence of plantar reflex and his lack of pupillary activity, so dilated that the whole of his eye appeared black. Providence’s electroencephalograms, however, were lit up like christmas trees, with every lobe of his brain firing erratically and without rest. The best diagnosis the doctors could agree on was that the trauma had triggered some kind of psycho-epileptic response; his brain was so overloaded in trying to process what had happened to him that it was shutting down his conscious mind in an effort to rationalize the trauma. Like a computer that freezes while in boot up, his brain was trying to fire up in Safety Mode, allowing the subconscious to sort things out. The only course of action? Wait and see.
The police reports yielded yet another uninspiring gout of information. It stated that the patient’s car had been found abandoned at the family’s vacation home on Lake McMurray in Washington during the summer of 2004. Justin had been gone for over five years before turning up on the opposite side of the country. He was in custody for only twenty-four hours, barely long enough to get a medical exam, before his family was there to take him home. As for the officers who had picked him up, one died in a shoot-out a week later, while the other suffered a stroke and now lives in a rest home in upstate Vermont.
Included with the file was a media recorder stored in the adjacent lock box. The audio recording had been taken by the policemen that had found him, wandering along the side of route 191 in Vermont, in the fall of 2009. Setting aside the file and retrieving his pen and paper, the doctor unpacked the media player and pressed the play button.
“I grew up in the woods around McMurray. We spent the summers at the lake, and when I was old enough to drive, I spent most of my weekends and even some time after school there. I even skipped school to go. I was drawn, inexorably to it, like a moth to a flame, or a fly to a pitcher plant. I wandered for hours through the dense evergreens, embroiled in the capricious daydreams of youthful imagination. By the age of eighteen, I knew the forest for miles around. I walked the faded paths of the pre-centennial loggers and the settlers. I recognized the stone and metal structures of old bridges and railways, faded and fallen into obscurity. I found an old ghost town, eaten by the primal woods after its residents died out or moved on a century ago, and played hide and seek with my friends amongst the tombstones of the forgotten graveyard. We sat in what had once been an open grave, smoking weed and drinking beers we’d taken from the cooler when our parents weren’t looking. I knew every inch of that forest. In my youthful ignorance, I considered it my personal verdant kingdom.”
Doctor Armitage reached across his desk and paused his media player, removing Justin’s permanent record from the many bundles of stapled-together papers that he had before him. The patient was a high school graduate, but his grades and the notes from his guidance counselor made indication of him being physically adept, but lacking real mental faculty. His math requirements had been waived due to the impact that being held back from graduating would have had on a “young man with a promising athletic career.” Words like ‘inexorably, capricious, and verdant’ were unlikely to be found in the lexicon of high schoolers in general, let alone solid C students who were angling to ride through academia on football scholarships.
The psychologist wrote a hastily scribbled note on his legal pad: “Unnatural dialogue, incongruent against other examples of lingual aptitude. Explore possible recitation of dictated accounts or trauma conditioning.” He set the school record aside and resumed the playback.
“The cabin looked like it had always been there, and I wanted to tell myself I just missed it. But for all the time I had spent in those woods, I knew it couldn’t be so simple. Somewhere inside, in the tenebrous depths where the surface of my sanity nestled against the banality of the world YOU know, the truth was a grain of sand that kept the two surfaces from seamlessly meshing together. My mind worked the morsel over and over, like an oyster, smoothing layer after layer of nacre over the irritant, rounding sharp edges so that the dangerous or harmful thing could be ignored; I was supposed to see the pearl, but I couldn’t accept it, I couldn’t ignore the truth. I knew that the cabin hadn’t been there an instant before. It didn’t appear. It didn’t materialize. It didn’t walk, run, or crawl into the field of my vision when my back was turned. We do not live in a L’Engle novel; reality did not smooth out a wrinkle and reveal the structure, previously obscured by the folds of relative time and space. It wasn’t there, and then it was.”
Armitage paused the player again, adding the phrase “Highly doubt patient has ever read A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle” to his notes. Also, why the emphasis on the listener’s perception of the world? “Patient makes poignant reference to delineate himself from the listener in terms of perception of the world, as if he isn’t talking to the interviewer, but to whoever is listening to the recording.” He took a sip of coffee, glanced at his iPad, then resumed the playback.
I don’t remember walking up to the door, or opening it; I blinked and . . . I was simply inside. I know the door knob was warmer than it should have been. I don’t remember touching it. I don’t remember how it felt, but I know how it was supposed to feel. Body heat warm. The inside was massive, much larger than the outside indicated; my mind told me it was a trick of shadow, but I knew it wasn’t. I walked to the nearest wall, touching something that looked like finished wood, but yielded like flesh. I felt the indentations of words and shapes, etched into the surface like old scars. I couldn’t read them, but I knew the story as I traced the alien sigils; they emerged like repressed memories, appearing with the warm familiarity of childhood reminiscence, only to disappear into lethe as my fingers left the grooves. Each time, they came with a visual; undisturbed crimson, with words and pictures that slowly rose up like ripples, only to vanish into the protean red without a trace. I walked the wall and ran my fingers along the marks, rendered insensate by the mental assault of sights, smells, and other sensations from what I can only describe as sensory organs I did not, or could not, possess. I only stopped when the images blurred and became nonsensical, and when I looked at my hand, I found the wall’s smooth hieroglyphs had long since given way to ugly scars, then marbled scabs, and now my fingers were pressed against open wounds that oozed a rancid ichor under the pressure of my touch.
I jerked my hand away, but the viscous slime clung to my skin; it was cooler than the air within the cabin, which felt swelteringly hot, and my fingers tingled like the lips do after a long drag on a menthol cigarette. I watched, transfixed, as it began to dissolve my skin. I felt no pain, just a gentle tingle, and by the time I wiped the slime off on my shirt my fingers were smooth and pink. The wrinkles, freckles, scars, even the nails were gone; the fingers of my left hand looked like they belonged on an unfinished mannequin.
The doctor paused the player and removed an emergency room admission report from his stack of papers. The medical examination that the patient had undergone indicated no malformations to the patient’s hands. Indeed, the patient showed no signs of medical event, past or present; his vitals were strong and steady, his blood tests showed a complete absence of foreign substances and exceptionally normal levels of white and red blood cells. Any and all deviations from standard health and well-being occurred after he returned home.
Shrugging, he pressed play again.
It was now I finally realized that the room was much darker than when I entered. Through the windows I could see blackness, that nightfall had come while I was lost in my reverie. Somehow, through an unseen source, a warm, dull glow permeated the room around me. The room was also filled with noises; scraping, wet breathing, groans and sighs, echoed throughout the lidless expanse of the cabin. The periphery of my vision was alive with inhuman shapes that made the shadows seethe and boil. Sometimes a shape would partially emerge for an instant: a hand with long and filthy nails, a hulking ape-like silhouette, rotted leathery wings, or a featureless white face, before vanishing back into the inky nothingness. I do not know how long I stood, frozen, before I became aware of something in the center of the room before me.
It was a woman, pale and perfect; not because she was truly fair of skin, but because I was fair, and her geas was of a type to make her relevant to me. Her delicate fingers beckoned, not just to me, but to the other things around us. Her smile created a strange blend of desire and terror in me, ruby lips that promised sex and ecstasy, eyes that threatened agonies where people should yet cannot die. I should have run, but it would have killed me to turn my back, because I had never wanted anything so badly in my life as I wanted this . . . unspoken thing she offered. My mind reeled with the intoxicating blend of sensations that it marinated in as I stared, struggling to comprehend what was before me; I saw what my sanity needed to believe it was, a phantom shaped by concepts of beauty and gender normativity instilled by social directives. Somewhere deep inside, where the shadows in my closet and under my bed were born, I knew the reality was far more vast and terrible than I could ever truly know. Each time the tendrils of my conscious mind brushed across the surface of the truth, it sent a shock up my spine and through my brain that raked the surface of my sanity raw; a convoluted mixture of pleasure and pain that someone on the outside sees no reason to get involved with, but someone who has touched it cannot escape. I wanted her with the maddening need of a ripening teenager, driven by erratic hormones and a burgeoning psychology he does not understand, yet is a slave to. I wanted her like an infant wants a mother’s breast, unable to comprehend what it is, only that it is the entirety of the universe he knows; only that it offers a nurturing relief to needs and fears that its mind is too simple to comprehend. I wanted her inside me; to gnaw on her marrow rich bones, to feel hot blood course down my gullet and her meat to pool in my stomach.
When she touched me, I realized that they were her thoughts, broadcast and entangled with my own.
He stopped the player again. “Possible dissociative personality disorder, repressed impulses of gender confusion or alternative sexuality. Patient could have had a stroke or aneurism, accounting for long-term fugue state.” His pen rasped loudly in the silence, “Check with county medical regarding the length of time that signs of stroke or aneurism are visible in the mind. Is five years long enough for the hematoma or the terminated nerve clusters to be re-absorbed by the brain matter and effective workarounds put in place?”
As she lay her hands on me, I felt fear well up in my throat like bile, but I could neither swallow or breathe. I could not move, only watch as she stripped me of my dressings. And then, only scream. I had ended up on the floor, watching as she languidly pulled long strips of ruddy flesh from my naked form, licking the gore from her fingers like a child does with melted chocolate. I was vaguely aware of other less human shapes as they gathered close to watch her work, occasionally sneaking a hand or a tongue or a tendril in to snatch up a gobbet of bloody meat to sample. Her hands worked tirelessly, peeling away the flesh and the tendons and the muscle as she dug deeper into the prison of meat my immobile body had become. I could not move a hair, only watch as she worked. My screams, she regarded as a beautiful serenade to work to. She peeled my fingers with great concert, singling out the hairlike nerves, making sure not a single iota of the agony would be missed. She was a creator, an artist, and my suffering was a labor of love.
This continued, for how long I cannot recall. She opened my chest like a christmas present, extracting viscera with appraisal and reverence, before setting each still-throbbing lump of meat aside. I was delirious; pain and pleasure and terror and joy had become indistinguishable from the other. I felt the air of the cabin as it filled the hollow expanse that my ribcage had become; the carnelian machinations of my body had been strewn about on the floor of the cabin, and yet I did not die. She held my still beating heart in her hands, up where I could see it from my paralyzed purchase on the ground, and I could feel each visceral surge pass through invisible currents from my body and into my heart, then out of my heart and into her. I could feel her slip through the connection and into me, ephemeral strands of something ancient and inhuman twining through the wrent fibers of my body and into the folds of my mind. The invasion was perverse and unnatural, disgusting and horrific. She showed me things that made me want to claw my eyes out, whispered things that made me want to pierce my eardrums and chew out my tongue to ensure I might never utter such things. My spirit was raped by innumerable nightmarish secrets, by otherworldly minds from under distant stars, older than time and far too alien to comprehend. My mind shattered, my body prayed for death; through bloodied teeth, I begged her to never stop.
The doctor paused the player and released the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding, idly wiping sweaty palms on the legs of his trousers. He rose up on shaky legs and moved to a nearby window, fumbling numbly at the latch with fingers that seemed to only barely understand what he was trying to do. He reached into his inside pocket, grasping for a pack of cigarettes that wasn’t there. He resorted to snaking a finger up one sleeve and hooking onto the rubber band he wore around his wrist, striking three series of three snaps against the pale flesh of his inner arm.
Something about the patient’s words triggered feelings inside him, created a sense of unease and loathing. Armitage had counselled trauma survivors before, dealt with people who were legitimately sick: abusers, rapists, killers. Those people talked about sex and violence with hungry enthusiasm, or lamented the misery of being trapped by impulses they could not control, or even received the truth with vehement denial; but this patient . . . this patient talked about his experiences with a neutral, disaffected tone. Most of the account was in a neutral, disaffected tone; however, when he talked about the mutilation and invasion, his voice took on a husky, needful tone. It reminded the doctor of a patient he had overseen the assessment of, and how the man had been unable to resist touching himself while he talked about his childhood, and how his mother would make him wear little girl’s clothing while his father molested him.
Armitage took a few minutes to gather himself before returning to his desk. He took a deep breath, picked up his notepad, and pressed play.
The next thing I knew, I was standing in the woods. A cool wind rushed through dense trees, their leaves a cascade of reds and yellows. Overhead I could barely glimpse the sun, its golden light hidden behind the clouds. My stomach growled petulantly as I had not eaten since the day before. I turned up my collar against the un-summer like chill and started to walk back towards my car.
The media player stopped, and Doctor Philip Armitage sat back in his seat, hands clasped and lips pursed as he stared mutely at the sea of paperwork strewn across his desk. He was struggling with the case; not out of difficulty with the terms, rather, but with how tidy it all seemed. A long list of psychiatrists who suddenly self-terminated after a few meetings with a troubled teen, never bothering to leave any sort of clinical notes about the sessions. A mother’s tragic death after signing her finances away on her son’s care, and a father who simply disappeared. Justin Cappershen’s life seemed determined to be an unassuming, open-and-shut file.
Of course, then there was the other file. While searching for information about any therapy files that might have made it onto the Deep Web, Armitage had found a conspiracy page revolving around a long series of cold cases that were being collectively titled ‘The Nephilim Suicides’. Between 2004 and 2009, there were nearly seven million violent crimes in the continental US; of these, 1025 were horrific murder-suicides along Highway 20 and, after their convergence, State Route 191. Each of these scenes involved whole families, where one family member murdered the entirety of their families before turning the weapon on themselves. The victims endured gruesome mutilations and very slow deaths, some of which took days; in some cases, all evidence pointed to the children as the perpetrators, despite the fact that many of the mutilations involved elaborate setups or required more physical strength than they should have possessed. Each one of the crime scenes had a single line from a poem titled ‘Nephilim’ in them, written on a wall, or a mirror, or a body. Posted anonymously on Reddit, the poem itself contained over a thousand lines, with each stanza written in a different language; the internet seemed unable to agree on any particular translation of each section, though the last was written in modern english.
The doctor’s mind was brushing across a realization, but his train of thought was interrupted by a blinding stab of agony. His ears squealed with a high pitched ring. His mouth tasted like salt and earth. His nose was filled with the stench of burning hair and blood. The migraine set the ends of each synapse on fire and forced the doctor to bury his face in the crook of one arm as he flailed blindly for the bottle of Valproate he kept in his desk drawer. After five minutes of struggling with the bottle, he finally managed to dry swallow two of the pills, grimacing from the pain and the bitter taste in his mouth. All that was left to do was block out the light, and ride the raves of nausea and pain until they finally stopped.
Armitage blinked, and found himself sprawled in his chair, scooted back from his desk and staring at the ceiling. He didn’t remember falling asleep, but from the darkness of his office, several hours had passed. He groaned and straightened, his joints cracking in complaint as he reached for the desk lamp. The computer said it was nearly midnight; Cappershen would wait until tomorrow, what the doctor needed was a stiff drink and a real bed, neither of which would be found in his office. As he rose, he noticed that his steno pad had fallen off the desk, the yellow paper highlighted by a sliver of amber light from the parking lamps outside. He bent to retrieve it, then froze, staring at the alien writing that darkened the page.
Through the greens and grays
across the land of the eagle’s children
she rides in the heart of Iustinus
He follows the steps of the old mother’s hut
He writes in the language of Kitab al-Azif
He barters in the coin of the old ones
He blazes the trail for the new Gods
The tall, the sleepless, the healer, the mother
The siren, the storyteller, the empty children, the beast
The architect, the priest, the liar, the hungry
The pretender, the puppeteer, the bride, the sleeper
Their gospel will echo in the ethereal
Their images will sit engraved in memory
The whisper of their names is heard in agony
Their visages linger in the periphery of your waking eyes
In dreams they will devour hope
Your world will end in horrors
and rise up, anointed in blood
shedding the caul of sanity
To embrace a new world
a new humanity
a new religion
a new God
We have such sights to show you.
It was the last stanza of the Nephilim; line after line of the text covered the sheet of paper in dark, scribbled lines. The letters were clumsy and barely legible at the top, but as they reached the bottom they smoothed out and became much easier to read, as if performed by hands that had sat idle for centuries. Just . . . waiting. In the bottom right corner, another note was sketched, this one in his own handwriting. It said “You’re very curious. She loves curiosity. She’s coming soon, Philip, and she can’t wait to meet you.”
He flinched, looking at the iPad and verifying that the patient was still asleep on his cot. For a moment, he could have sworn he’d seen Justin scuttling up the wall towards him, obscuring the wireless camera’s view with a pupil-less, unblinking eye.