Buzzing, fluorescent lights greeted me when I opened my leary eyes. My surroundings were fuzzy, and my head felt like a balloon filled with cement. Remnants of a nightmare floated through my brain, and I tried to push them away. Was this part of the sleep study? Induced nightmares? I yawned, feeling extremely groggy with a terrible heavy feeling in my body. A beeping sound registered in my brain, startling me. I turned my head towards the source of the sound and saw the blurry outline of a monitor. My heart rate was dancing along the screen at slightly elevated, yet regular intervals.
I tried to sit up, but found I was strapped down to the hard surface I was on. Panic threatened to overtake me once more, and I could taste the bitterness of bile at the back of my throat. Unable to move, I forced myself to swallow, taking some deep breaths to fight off the sick feeling growing in my stomach.
My head was still mobile, so I looked the left, taking in as much of the room as I could. The walls were concrete, with several cracks running the length from floor to ceiling. Strange symbols were painted on the walls, but I didn't know what they meant. Another table lay just a few feet away, and an unconscious young woman with chestnut colored hair lay there. Her skin was marked the same way as the girl I'd seen in the morgue.
“Darcy?” I croaked, my throat feeling dry and hoarse. I coughed slightly, and managed to lift my head. Darcy's heart was beating at a slow, uneven rate. My vision cleared a bit, and I scanned the room, nausea washing over me when I noticed an array of cold, sharp, steel medical utensils sitting on a cart near the wall. Whatever they were used for, I didn't think it was for a sleep study.
I opened my mouth to call for help, then thought better of it. Memories of what I'd believed to be a dream were becoming clearer, and I remembered the news articles I'd read about the recent disappearances, and the image of the girl in the morgue flashed through my head. It was better to sit tight and remain quiet, hoping Darren would be able to find this place before I became one of the next victims.
A snippet of Darren's earlier conversation with Agent Lowe floated back through my memory. According to their evidence folder, the bodies were turning up in the same order the abductions had happened. Darcy had vanished before me, so I figured I had some time. The thought was reassuring, if not slightly selfish.
A soft moan came from my left. I turned my head, and found Darcy beginning to wake up.
“Hey. Darcy, right? Can you hear me?” I asked quietly. She gave me a weak 'yes' in response.
“What's happened to us?” She started to reply when the creak of a door opening caused her to freeze. Fear was apparent in her eyes as she stared past me, her sight locked on the approaching figure.
“Seems like you two have gotten acquainted,” said a cold, feminine voice. I turned towards the woman's voice, finding a tall, raven-haired woman with a streak of gray in the front looking down on me. She was missing a section of hair on near her right temple, where the skin was covered in burn scars. “Too bad. It seems like you'll have to say goodbye soon. Darcy isn't going to be with us much longer.”
I watched her move a stack of papers from somewhere near the other table into a red folder labeled “FAILED EXPERIMENTS”. Nausea washed over me again, and this time I wasn't able to stop it. I barely had time to turn my head before a stream of vomit left my mouth, splattering on the floor below me. I coughed and sputtered a moment, before a terror-filled rage rose within me.
“What have you done to us?” I demanded, lifting my head to meet the woman's eyes.
“Be quiet!” She shouted, her words punctuated by the loud snap of rubber gloves meeting skin. I tried to protest, but closed my mouth as the flash of light reflected off of a silver syringe needle in her hand.
“It seems that you've been a little more active than your friend here,” the woman explained, raising the syringe to the light. She tapped the glass, forcing an air bubble to the top and pushing the plunger until a few drops of the liquid ran down the sides of the needle.
“What are you going to do to her?” I asked. “Let us go!”
The woman didn't respond, her mangled face unmoving.
“Sorry, I can't do that," she replied nonchalantly as she recorded my vital signs. "You haven't finished the study yet. Besides, this concoction is for you, not her.”
“Get away from me!” I struggled against my restraints, a futile effort. The woman reached out a latex-gloved hand and stroked the side of my face. I snapped my teeth at her thumb, missing by a hair's breadth. Her hand reeled back and came down with a sharp slap that send me reeling, a high-pitched buzzing noise filling my ears.
“Relax,” she commanded, moving my hair back. “You won't remember a thing.”
The needle pierced my neck and the world went black.
“Rae?” Darren's voice floated above me, and I fought against its pull, clinging to the oblivion I had been in previously.
“Rae!” His shout was close to my face, and I bolted upright, my face going right through his forehead and coming out the back of his skull.
He stood abruptly, rubbing his head with a shiver. “You scared the hell out of me! You just disappeared for 12 whole hours! I thought I was going crazy all over again.”
I groaned, shaking off the remaining grogginess that seemed to weigh me down.
“Where did you go, anyway? One minute you were fine, and then you just vanished. I spent half the night freaking out, and the other half alternating between rationalizing everything and using the information we got from Trina. I came right over after eating breakfast with my partner.”
“Did you find anything out?” He nodded, though his lack of enthusiasm was obvious.
“Just that the address you were given is a fake. It used to be a lab, but it got shut down after it caught fire four years ago. The building didn't sustain much damage, but three people died, a test subject and two scientists.” He showed me a printed news article.
“Darcy,” I murmured, memories of the cold, concrete room and the dark-haired woman with the syringe dancing through my brain. A shiver ran down my spine.
“What about Darcy?” Darren asked expectantly.
“It was really weird. I woke up in this concrete room where there was a bunch of medical equipment hooked up. It was horrible—we were strapped down to these operating tables,” I shook off the remaining fear and took a deep breath.
“Do you know where the concrete room is?” He asked, pulling out a print-out map of the town.
I shook my head, “I don't think so. I didn't see much of it before she knocked me out again.”
“She? Our killer is a woman?” He asked.
“Don't act so surprised. Women are capable of a lot of things that men would never expect,” I snapped, then felt stupid for defending my captor.
“I didn't mean it that way, it's just surprising. It would take a lot of strength to kidnap these victims. Especially that one guy. Dude was massive,” he told me. “Do you remember anything else?”
I told him everything I could remember, from the bright fluorescent lights, Darcy's heart rate, the red folder, and the syringe filled with a strange fluid.
“Can I see that article again? Did it say who the scientists were or what they were working on?” He shook his head.
“No, but this article does,” he pulled out another sheet of paper, and my heart pounded when I saw the woman's face next to the headline.
“That's her,” I shivered, staring at the image before me. “Look, before you go in there, you've gotta call back up. This lady is crazy. There's no way you can go by yourself.”
“What, and tell Lowe how this all transpired? He was already pissed off that I just disappeared yesterday. I told him I got sick, but he barely bought it. I'll have to come up with something plausible that will get him to believe that I've got a really good lead here.”
“I don't care what you tell him, Darren. Tell him the truth if you have to. Just don't go by yourself.”
“Relax. I'll think of something. I can't very well tell him the truth. Paper pushing, remember?” He shuffled the papers in his hands nervously.
“I thought you didn't care if you got stuck at a desk. You don't really like your job, remember?” I looked at him pointedly, and he blushed.
“Well, I thought about what you said last night, about me being good at my job. I don't know, maybe I'll stick with it for a while, give it a shot.” I forced a smile on my face, but I didn't trust him. He didn't seem to be taking this seriously.
“Whatever you have to do, just make sure you've got backup. You don't know what this woman is capable of.” I was adamant about this. I'd seen the body of the girl who'd been found most recently, and I saw what she had done to Darcy.
“Relax. It'll all be okay.” I nodded weakly in response, beginning to feel tired again. I tried to swallow my fear as I anticipated what was coming next.
“Rae? You're going again,” he said softly. “Don't worry though. I'm going to find you, I promise.”
“Don't go alone,” I repeated over and over as I was swallowed by the abyss once more.
I was once more surrounded by concrete walls. I forced myself to wake quickly, and desperately hoped that Darcy was still alive. I raised my head, hoping to spot her, but instead found myself in a different room than the one before. This one was smaller, darker, and had a metal door. The creepy markings from before were written all over the walls and ceiling, looking like something out of a horror film.
“Awake again, I see?” The scientist's sharp voice came from somewhere in the corner where the light didn't reach. “Your brain has been very active. I've been watching it on my computer screen. It seems you've been wandering.” She clicked her tongue, admonishing me.
“She's completed the study.” My stomach lurched as I understood what she was implying, but I had nothing left to throw up. The woman rose, her pale features standing out like a skull. The clicking of her heels on the hard floor echoed through the chamber.
“Have you been talking to someone, Rae?” Her tone was condescending, and I turned my face away, refusing to answer. She gripped my face in her icy hands, her nails digging into my cheeks as she forced me to look at her. “An FBI agent perhaps?”
“Back off, you evil bitch!” I spat, this time bracing myself for the hard blow she would administer. Instead, she patted my forehead, laughing.
“No matter,” she sighed. “You won't be leaving again. I moved you here while you were out. These sigils will keep you from leaving, whether it be in your physical form or your astral body.”
“Astral body?” I asked, eyes widening. “Like psychics?”
She laughed again, shaking her head. “It's part of my experiment. I'm studying astral projection. That's what the drugs are for.”
Forced astral projection. That was one I'd never heard, not even in the movies. “And what do you do with us once we're out of our bodies?”
“Watch you of course, see what you do.”
“You're sick, you know that?” Another giggle escaped her lips. “Is that how you found out about the FBI?”
“Oh, I can't see quite that much. No, your little friend showed up here two or three hours ago looking for you. I really must thank you for the new test subject.” That idiot came alone?! “Speaking of which, I think it's time for phase one. You don't have to watch if you don't want.”
She produced another syringe, although this time the fluid looked different from before. I began to struggle against my bindings, fighting in earnest. The scientist stood there calmly, holding the needle as she waited for me to wear myself out. It didn't take long, and before I could protest, she was injecting the substance into my blood stream.
“I'll see you soon,” she told me as she left the room, closing the door behind her. I lay there for several moments, expecting to fall back to sleep. Instead, my body went numb and I felt like I was floating. I looked down at my feet, and realized that I was leaving my body. Quickly, I put my feet to the floor, leaving my sleeping form on the table. I looked at myself and was immediately thankful that I could not vomit in astral form. Every inch of my skin was covered in sigils. I yanked at the restraints that held my body to the table, to no avail. I was too weak to even concentrate.
I ran to the metal door, attempting to walk through it like I had my own door at the apartment, but it was futile. The scientist's symbols held me in the room. Unlike the bindings on the table, I could touch the door, but I could not go through it. Whatever she had done, it was preventing me from escaping. I pushed and pulled, trying everything I could think of to get out, but like the scientist had said, I was trapped. I looked out of the small window, seeing nothing but a dark window across a corridor.
Suddenly, a light came on, revealing an operating table. Darren was strapped to it, bright fluorescent lights illuminating his unconscious form. The scientist walked to the center of the room, holding a clipboard and a syringe.
“Stop!” I shouted, pounding against the glass.
The scientist glanced up in my direction, a sinister grin spreading across her misshapen features. She knew I was watching. Slowly, she lowered the syringe to Darren's neck, the needle piercing the skin there and sinking deep into his vein.
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