I Help Schizophrenics

When I saw the woman in the middle of the road appear to swat thin air, I recognised it immediately – schizophrenia.

I approached her, she turned, her face distorting horribly.

“No, no! Go away now!” she demanded, heading off down the road.

I followed at some distance, trying carefully not to spook her.

“I can still see you,” she sung while looking over her shoulder through a small make-up mirror.

I slowed.

“Go away, go away, come again another day,” she said shaking her head violently.

She stopped abruptly and made a 90 degree turn, entering a small alleyway, her fists slammed together involuntarily. She was clearly not taking medication and I worried she would be a danger to herself and others.

“No, no, *NO, NO*!” she said, her voice getting more and more pinched.

I saw the source of her apprehension; we were at a dead-end.

“Hey,” I said, putting out my hand to calm her, “it’s okay, I’m a Doctor, you can trust me.”

“I can trust *YOU*?” she said smiling and nodding her head excitedly.

“I’m not here to hurt you.”

“I know,” she giggled anxiously, “I’m not scared of *YOU*.”

“I can get you some help, will you stay there while I use my phone?” I asked.

“I’m scared of that!” she announced like a pouting school girl, pointing past me and into the road behind.

I turned and saw nothing, except the leaves in the alleyway that swirled in the wind.

She laughed, “Oh, sorry, you can’t see it, can you! That must be much more scary. I’ve seen it. Oh I’ve seen it. It’s horrible and it wants me.”

She leaned against the wall and slowly slid herself into a sitting position before rocking back and forth.

I picked up the phone and I spoke with a colleague, I explained to him what happened. He told me he’d send someone right away; I gave him the street and told him where we were.

“I just spoke to someone who’s going to get you some help, okay?”

She responded with a giant grin, but her eyes betrayed that, they appeared lost and scared. She stared into the alleyway.

I sat down next to her while we waited.

“What’s your name?”

She didn’t say anything.

I peered in the same direction as she did and sighed.

“No worries, you don’t need to tell me your name.”

She was now admiring herself in the make-up mirror. If I was to guess, I’d say she was in her early twenties. Her face showed signs of weathering, like she spent a lot of time outside. Her clothes were wrinkled but clean. Her shoes were ruined, the soles cracked and broken.

“Where do you live?” I asked, “Do you live with your parents?”

“Emma,” she said, still grinning.

“Emma, that’s a nice name.”

She ignored me and stood up, turning on the spot. She continued to gaze through her little mirror, as if trying to see something in the alleyway behind her.

“It’s still there,” she said anxiously, before moving into the corner, hiding herself behind a trashcan.

“What’s there, Emma? I don’t see anything.”

Her grin was now gone, replaced by a fear of something I was oblivious to.

“Is someone after you? If there is, we can make sure they can’t hurt you.”

She remained silent. I checked the time on my phone.

“It won’t give up, no ma’am,” she said.

“What won’t give up Emma? Is it your boyfriend or your father?”

She played with her mirror, spinning it in her hands.

I looked up when I saw Steven search the end of the alleyway.

“We’re over here,” I said, waving to him.

He acknowledged me and approached.

“It’s time to go, Emma.”

“No, I don’t want to. It’s still *OUT* there.”

“It’s okay,” I said, standing up.

“Emma, this is Steven; he’s here to help you; let me get you up.”

“Hi.”

I gently placed my hand in hers and gripped, pulling her up gently. At first she agreed, before something changed her mind. She wriggled her hand free and scratched my face.

“Fuck,” I said in surprise.

“Are you okay?” Steven asked.

“I’m fine.”

I saw the shock on Emma’s face.

“I’m sorry,” she said honestly as if she snapped back to reality.

“I know this is stressful for you.”

In her daze, Steven helped her up to her feet, hooking his arm in hers and leading the way.

“*NO*, I don’t want to go,” she demanded as she struggled against him.

“Nothing’s going to hurt you,” I said, taking her other arm.

Together we led her down the alleyway.

“*NO, PLEASE!* It’s still out there!” she cried.

“Are you okay?” Steven asked.

“Don’t worry about me, let’s just get her in the car.”

As we left the alleyway and re-emerged into main street, she swung her legs.

“Let go of me, *LET GO OF ME*!”

“Only a couple more feet, Emma, then we’re all going to be safe in Steven’s car.”

He held onto her while opening the back door. We slid her in and shut it. She pulled violently on the door release, which didn’t relent.

“Thank you so much,” I said, genuinely relieved he was here.

“Not a problem,” he replied, moving around the car and getting in the driver’s side.

I opened the passenger door and got in.

I peered over my shoulder to see Emma frantically looking in her little mirror, checking every conceivable angle. The car drove off smoothly.

“Are you okay back there?” I asked.

Emma continued to gaze into her reflection, before contorting her body so the mirror faced the front of the car. I saw her face look back at me via the rear-view mirror and she smiled again, that overly large grin.

“Yes,” she said calmly.

“That’s good,” I responded, turned back to face the road.

“Are you still afraid of *it*?” I asked.

“No,” she said, shaking her head excitedly.

“That’s good, why not?”

“It doesn’t want me anymore,” she said chuckling, “it wants you.”

***

We arrived at the hospital, Steven got out and opened the door for Emma. She willingly exited the vehicle with him. I followed the pair into the building. Then Steven spoke to an Orderly.

“I can take it from here,” he said to me, “just wait over there and I’ll take you home.”

“Thanks again, I really appreciate it.”

The Orderly looked at me briefly before leading Emma off.

I sat on one of the plastic chairs that lined the walls of the waiting room. Fifteen minutes later Steven returned.

“I’d like to speak to her again tomorrow, if that’s okay?”

“No problem,” he said handing over some paperwork, “she will be under the supervision of Dr Karlson, do you know him?”

I accepted the documents, “Yes, I know *her* well.”

“Excuse me!” he said laughing, “Let’s get you home.”

***

I arrived late that evening, the summer sun just beginning to duck behind the houses across the road. As I walked up the garden path, I turned and waved, seeing Steven drive off into the night. Putting my key in the door, I heard my dog, Gus, bark, which was unusual for him. I opened the door and bent over to greet him. He moved his head to look around me and began to growl.

“Hey, buddy, mommy’s home.”

His teeth were bared, his body arched, the hairs on his back standing upright.

“What’s up?” I said, closing the door behind me.

And with that, he calmed himself. His tail wagging slowly beneath him as if to say he over reacted. I approached and stroked him.

“What’s up, are you hungry?” I asked, seeing his empty food bowl.

His tail rose as he relaxed.

“Let’s get you some food,” I announced.

He circled my legs as I entered the kitchen. I took a can out of the cupboard, emptying its contents into his bowl, then placing it on the floor.

“There you go, boy.”

He looked up at me and cocked his head.

“What’s up, don’t you like your food?”

Gus barked then left the kitchen, heading for the front door. I ran after him. He entered the living room and jumped on the couch. His head bobbed, trying to look through the blinds until he settled on a spot below them. I was confused, he never got on the furniture. He started to growl again.

“That was Steven, you remember him don’t you? He’s gone now.”

I heard a knock at the door, as if someone hit it with a hammer. The sound reverberated around the house and Gus whimpered. After a couple of seconds, another thump, identical to the first. My dog left his position on top of the couch and cowered behind me.

“Don’t worry, it’s probably Steven, maybe he forgot to tell me something.”

I unlocked the door and stood on the front step. Gus began to whine as a strong gust brushed past me.

“There’s no-one here,” I said, closing the door, making sure to double lock it, “it must have been the wind.”

Gus sat in the hallway petrified, his tail tucked neatly under his body. His head shaking from side to side, moments before his whole body joined in. I crouched next to him and placed my hand on his muzzle.

“What’s up, little man? Don’t you want to eat?”

His eyes met mine, asking me a question I didn’t understand.

“If you don’t feel like eating we’ll go up to bed,” I said, and as soon as I did, he slunk past me and up the stairs. I shook my head, returning to the kitchen to put his food in the fridge for tomorrow.

I returned to the stairs and made my way bedwards. I saw myself in the mirror on the landing.

*Emma really did a number on my face*, I thought to myself as I studied the three scratch marks that had bled considerably. *No wonder the Orderly stared at me*. I froze. In the corner of the mirror, I saw a dark shadow at the bottom of the stairs. I moved closer to get a better look, but my face obscured it. I gasped and looked behind me, seeing the downstairs lobby lit by the bright hallway light. Returning my gaze to the mirror, I saw that the shadow was gone. I noticed the small beads of sweat gathered on my brow and I laughed at myself. I was scared in my own house.

Gus whined from where he was sitting in front of the bedroom door. He scratched at it with his paws.

“What is up with you?” I said, opening it.

Gus jumped on the bed and led down.

“You’re acting really weird,” I said to him, “you never sleep up here.”

He cried again until I closed the door. I took off my clothes and entered the en-suite. I picked up some cotton wool and ran it over the scratches on my face, rubbing hard to remove the dried blood. As I did, the wounds re-opened.

“Shit,” I said to myself, dabbing the new blood carefully, trying not to make it worse.

I heard Gus growl again from behind me.

“Jesus, boy, it’s late, Mrs Hampton is going to be so pissed off at us,” I said leaving the en-suite.

Gus had his nose to the small gap under the door, the light from the hallway leaked in. He sniffed frantically, his paws trying to scratch underneath. I could hear something very faint, like a chittering or a clicking. Softly I approached the door and the sounds became louder. I placed my hands on Gus’ back and shushed him; he understood and became silent. We waited, the sounds continued, getting louder as they approached. Then they stopped. In the quiet we fixated on the light that sprayed in from the hallway.

“FUCK!” I exclaimed as a shadow passed through the light under the doorway. Gus barked aggressively, slamming his claws on the wood, scraping anxiously at it.

My body shook. The clicking sounds gave way to a sniffing, as if someone were trying to detect gas. I pulled Gus away from the door.

“Keep quiet, buddy,” I said, holding him close to me.

Whatever was out there now blocked out the light, it was right in front of the door. *Sniff* *Sniff*. I heard it like it was in the room with us. Gus gave one last whine before pouncing at the door. And with that, the sound stopped and the light returned.

I crawled my way onto the bed, covering myself up, watching my dog guard the door, feeling embarrassed with myself. Over the next few minutes he relaxed until the only sniffing was from him. When he was happy that whatever we had heard was gone, he leaped onto the bed and curled up next to me. He usually slept in his bed on the floor downstairs, but tonight he was here on the bed, and I was very happy he was.

***

I spoke with Dr Karlson early in the morning, she agreed I could meet with Emma. She confided that she wouldn’t open up to her. It was her that Emma had been seeing and she’d stated she couldn’t trust her. Dr Karlson didn’t believe in *it*.

I arrived at the hospital just before lunch. I was told she was already waiting for me.

She sat on the other side of a small table, in a room that was more fitting for a police interview than a psychiatric evaluation.

“Thanks for letting me see you,” I said, taking a seat opposite her, placing my papers on the table, nodding to Dr Kalson, who sat in the corner.

She smiled back at me.

“Back on your meds are we?”

She nodded lazily.

“Good; can you tell me more about what happened yesterday?” I asked.

“No need,” she said, in a slow, almost stoned tone.

“Why is that?”

“Like I told you yesterday, it doesn’t want me anymore.”

“But, what is *it*?”

“If I knew that, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now.”

I took a sheet of paper out of the folder.

“It says here that you missed an appointment last week, and you didn’t answer any calls?”

“Yes.”

“Why was that?”

“I couldn’t go home.”

“You’ve not been home since then? So, where have you been?”

“Here and there, just trying to stay out of the way of *you know*.”

“In this period, did you take your medication?”

She shook her head, “I’ve not taken them for two weeks.”

“Why not? You know you need the anti-psychotics to keep you stable.”

“But if I did, I’d never have known *it* was after me.”

I sighed. This wasn’t the first patient I’d engaged with that stopped their medication without prior consent. The usual problem is, the medication does such a good job, people think they no longer require it, so they just stop. But they don’t realise it’s the medication keeping them normal.

“Did anyone tell you to stop taking it?”

She stopped talking.

“Emma, I really need to know. Did anyone talk to you and tell you to stop taking your medication?”

“Tim,” she said reluctantly.

“Who’s Tim?”

“Is that Tim Sampson?” Dr Karlson asked.

Emma didn’t respond, hanging her head.

“And who is he?” I said.

“He was a patient of ours,” the Doctor said.

“He was?”

“Yes, he left the hospital a month or so ago.”

“Where is he now? I’d like to speak to him.”

“He’s dead.”

I looked at Emma, who still hung her head.

“He was hit by a bus a fortnight ago.”

“Did you know this happened to him Emma?”

She didn’t want to look up.

“Emma? It’s important!” I said demanding, then immediately regretting it.

She raised her head, fresh tears now ran down her cheeks.

“*It* had got him. He went to tell me before it was too late. He ran out into the road, I saw it all.”

“You have to stop with this delusion, Emma,” the Doctor said, “nothing is after you, and nothing was after Tim.”

I got annoyed, she shouldn’t have been treating her patient like that. All it was going to do was drive her away.

“*You* believe me, don’t you?” she asked.

I averted my gaze and thought back to the shadow I saw in the mirror last night. And the thing, whatever it was, that was terrifying Gus and I.

“You’ve seen *it*, haven’t you?” Emma said knowingly.

“I wouldn’t say I’ve seen it.”

“But you know I’m telling the truth.”

Calmer now, she rummaged around in her clothes and pulled out the small mirror. Quickly searching the room, like she did back in the car last night.

“What is that?” the Doctor said, annoyed.

“No! I need to see if *it* is here!”

“Don’t be silly, give me that! Orderly, I need some help.”

“*IT’S* ON ME!” Emma screamed.

I stepped away from the table as a member of staff ran in. They fought with her, trying to wrestle the small make-up mirror away from her.

It happened in a instant; a crack, then a scream. Then an arch of blood that sprayed the ceiling with such velocity it rained down on everyone.

“Get some help!” the Doctor screamed.

I left the room, and before I could so much as shout, the commotion had alerted a team of medical personnel. Visibly shaken, I looked at myself in the reflection of the window to the room. Blood painted my face and stained my clothes. But that was not what took my gaze. It was the shadowy figure that lingered in the background.

“Please get out of the way,” a nurse with a gurney shouted.

I stepped back, when I looked again, whatever I saw was no longer there. I continued to walk backwards and fell into a plastic chair. I panted, trying to come to terms with what just happened.

“I think you should leave,” Dr Karlson said to me. Her scowl didn’t leave her face.

“What’s happened to her?”

“She slit her wrist.”

“Is she going to be okay?”

“Hopefully, for your sake.”

“Can I see her when she’s recovered?”

“I don’t think that would be appropriate, do you?”

“You think she’s talking shit?” I asked.

“Oh course I do, she was off her medication.”

“I just don’t see why she would continue to make it up, now she’s back on her meds.”

“Are you saying you believe her? And you call yourself a Doctor.” she asked.

“I don’t think we should be so quick to judge; with Tim and now her.”

“Tim was a schizophrenic too, highly agitated, with suicidal tendencies. That wasn’t the first time he tried to do something like that. I’m just surprised he didn’t succeed sooner.”

“That’s a horrible thing to say.”

She took out a handkerchief and wiped her face, studying the blood that now stained it.

“I know my patients, and they don’t need someone like you to play into their paranoid delusions. Now please leave.”

“But…” I started before she cut me off.

“Security! Get this woman out of here. You have blood on your hands, not just literally.”

I stared at them, the blood drying into the lines of my palms and between my fingers.

A man forced his hand under my shoulder.

“There’s no need for that,” I said, “I’ll see myself out.”

***

Steven phoned me early evening to ask how I got on.

“Not great,” I said, before relaying him the events of the evening.

“You said you knew her?”

“I mean, I knew *of* her.”

“I guess you didn’t know she was a bitch.”

“Steven!”

“Sorry, but she is. Did you know she once got suspended for giving her patients placebos without prior permission?”

“How the hell is she still employed there?”

“I have no idea, she must have some sort of hold over upper management.”

“That makes me sick,” I said, “she was telling her patients that they were basically crazy, how can they get better if she does that?”

“Are you going to see Emma again tomorrow?”

“No, she won’t let her anywhere near me. Would you do me a favour and give me an update on her, I’d like to know when she gets better?”

“Sure can.”

“Thanks Steven.”

“No problem.”

“You know, you don’t need to call me Steven, you can call me Steve.”

“Okay, *Steve*,” I said giggling, “Bye.”

***

I heard scratching as I approached the door to my house. Apprehensively, I unlocked it before Gus ran out into the garden.

“Gus, what’s up?” I said, watching him leave the front yard and disappear around the side of the house.

I followed, to see him scratch at the garage door. I returned to the front of the house and locked up.

Gus thumped his paws onto the metal, the clanging sound rang out in the street.

“Do you want to go in the camper van?” I asked.

He sat himself down. After what happened the other night, I was more than happy to entertain him. I opened the garage, Gus ran in behind me. As I entered the van, he pushed past and headed into the bedroom.

As I sat in the driver’s seat, contemplating what I was going to do next, my phone rang.

“Hi Steve,” I said with a smile on my face.

“I have bad news,” he responded.

My grin fell away.

“She’s gone, I’m so sorry.”

“What happened? Was it the cuts?”

“I don’t know. They rushed her out. I’ve never seen anything like it. I was on a break, I was just going to check on her for you. It was weird, they usually have a senior Doctor confirm the cause of death, but she was already in a body bag by the time I arrived.”

“Where is she now?”

“Probably down in the morgue.”

“Do you think you can get me access?”

“I don’t know.”

“Please, Steve, I need to see her.”

He sighed.

“Let me see what I can do.”

***

Gus and I left in the van and drove straight to the hospital. It was getting dark, visiting hours were over and the multi-story car-park was shut, which only left the staff lot available. I parked the van around the corner, out of sight of the main building.

Gus was much more relaxed here than back at the house, but something about him seemed off. I took a can of food out and checked the date; it had been a while since we’d been on the road. It was good by a couple of months. I put it into a bowl and pushed it in front of him. He looked at it, sniffed and left to go back to the bedroom. It had been over a day since he had eaten and I’d become concerned.

“Buddy, eat your food,” I said, moving the bowl into the bedroom.

He growled at me.

Taken aback I said, “Calm down. I’ll just leave this here and if you want to eat, you can.”

He slunk under the bed and hid.

I checked the cupboards for something for me. I found a can of meatballs, just out of date; I ignored this and opened it. I was halfway through eating when the phone rang again.

“Hey, it’s Steven.”

“I thought it was Steve?” I said somewhat flirty.

“You don’t have much time, if you go now you can see her.”

“See who?”

“Emma. She’s on floor zero, room 12. I have to go.”

“Steve?” I said, but he was gone.

I put the unfinished food in the sink and said goodbye to the dog. I left the van and made my way through the staff carpark.

The hospital was on a skeleton crew, but the orderly I saw earlier recognised me.

“Can I help you?” he asked.

“No, I know where I’m going.”

I pushed past him and to the elevator. I pressed the button and waited.

“I don’t think you’re supposed to be here,” he said.

I ignored him, ran to the stairwell and took the two fights of stairs down to floor zero. There was a smell I was unfamiliar with that permeated the whole floor. It made the place seem unworldly and uncanny. To look at the hallway it would appear like any other floor of the hospital, but that odour make it take on a sinister tone.

I scanned the nameplates next to the rooms, one by one as their numbers increased, until I found room 12. I burst through the double doors to see a solitary mortician slicing a large incision down an old man’s chest.

“Can I help you?” he said, holding his scalpel upright – it’s blade clean and glinted in the light – I made note of the lack of blood.

“I need to see someone,” I said catching my breath.

“Living and breathing or horizontal and quiet?”

I feigned a smile and started searching the metal drawers on the wall for the name.

“Sorry, ma’am, you can’t just come in here without the right paperwork.”

I ignored him and continued.

“I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

There she was, second shelf up.

“You can’t open that,” the man said, still rooted to the spot.

I slid the drawer open to see Emma’s body lie motionless, feeling the cool air that wafted out. She appeared just the same. The rough cuts on her arms from the makeshift shiv were deep and purposeful, as if she had planned this all along.

I brought my hand to my mouth and began to cry.

“Please?” the mortician asked one last time.

I turned to face him, “I do apologise, she was a patient of mine. I can’t believe what’s happened.”

“Oh, ma’am, you’re bleeding,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone, pointing his scalpel at my face.

I reached for my phone and put it in camera mode, focusing it on my face. The scratches bled again as if they were fresh. I dabbed them with my finger before noticing something in the camera over my shoulder. Emma’s body was just in view, a little out of focus. I tapped the screen before screaming. Hundreds of small black spider like creatures crawled out of the cuts in the wrist and scuttled across her body, burying into flesh and disappearing down her throat.

I turned to look at her and was shocked to see no such creatures were present.

“I’ve got some iodine around here, let me sort that our for you,” the mortician offered.

I pressed record on my phone and pointed my camera at the body. Nothing was there. My chest heaved as I tried to catch my breath.

“I swear I saw something,” I said frustrately.

“I thought I told you to get out?” I heard from an angry voice behind me. I fumbled with my phone, dropping it to the floor. It stared back up at me, with a large Y-shaped crack on the screen, similar to the incisions on the cadaver the mortician had been working on.

“Dr Karlson,” I said, trying to regain my composure.

“*You*,” she responded, pointing at me.

“I’ll give you one minute to get out of this place and never come back.”

“I have no need to be here anymore,” I said, picking up my phone. She stepped out of the way and welcomed me to leave.

I reached the lift and gave out a huge sigh, it felt like I’d been holding my breath for ages. My hand shook when I pressed the button for the ground floor.

The orderly wasn’t to be seen when I re-entered the lobby. I ran across the carpark and back to the van. The door to the vehicle was ajar and my heart sank. I thought the worst. I wasn’t worried that the van may have been looted, but that Gus had somehow escaped.

“Gus,” I said, getting in slowly, “are you there?”

The interior was untouched. My half-eaten bowl of meatballs sat in the sink. Gus’s bowl lay on it’s side, the contents spilled over the beige carpet.

I turned on the light in the bedroom and checked under the bed; he wasn’t there. My panic grew. Then I noticed an odd shaped lump under the covers. I pulled them back to see the curled up body of my dog. I leapt on top of him.

“Oh thank you, thank you, thank you,” I said to him.

I stood up and he gazed at me, baffled as to this new found affection, his tail wagging with anticipation.

“Come on, let’s go home.”

***

The drive back through the city was easy and uneventful, the traffic from the day having long left the city centre, and spread out into the arterial roads that led to pastures far.

Approaching my house, I saw a car with its side lights on wait a couple of doors down from my front yard. I slowed my approach, ignoring my house, pretending I had no reason to stop there.

I peered over at the person sitting in the vehicle. It was *fucking* Dr Kalson, she was waiting for me, waiting for me at my *God Damn* house.

*How the hell did she know where I lived?*

She glared directly into my eyes, her face gurning with anger.

I gunned the car and sped away as fast as I could.

“Sorry Gus!” I shouted into the darkness behind me, as I heard him fall off of whatever seat he had perched himself on.

In the rearview I saw her lights as she frantically tried to turn around in the narrow road.

I hung a right onto Main Street. It was empty, bar a couple of cars travelling in the opposite direction. I contemplated taking the first exit to the freeway. But if I got on there, I was a sitting duck, any half decent car could catch up with this old thing. I checked behind me again and saw nothing. I felt mildly relieved, but the anxiety that had grown was still in residence.

I turned left onto a narrow road that led out into the countryside. If I was going to lose her completely, I needed to be somewhere I could disappear. The roads twisted and turned, forked and split in all different directions. I randomly took turns, driving as fast as I could, with the high-beams on, pleading with God not to send a car hurtling towards me in the other direction.

It was around twenty minutes later when I finally felt I had given her the slip. I saw a sign for a forest rest-area and decided to take that. The road turned to gravel almost instantly, before giving way to dirt. I followed this until I reached a clearing. There was a single tent that lit up brightly in my headlights; I turned my lights down.

I took the key out of the ignition and sat in silence. It was pitch black inside the van. All I could hear was Gus panting in the back.

“I think we’re okay now, you can relax,” I said to him, but really trying to convince myself.

My heart thumped, I held my hand to my chest in an effort to calm it. But it was no use, the adrenaline that was powering my system was doing much too good a job.

I took out my phone and studied the no signal icon underneath the crack that now adorned the screen.

I opened the gallery and started the video I had taken of Emma’s body. She seemed so peaceful, just as if she had fallen asleep. I hear Dr Kalson tell me I shouldn’t be here. Then I watched as the phone spiralled to the floor. But there is something in the footage, something I didn’t see when I was there, because I wasn’t looking. I rewound to the beginning and watched again. Just after the Dr announces herself, I paused it. Frame by frame, I advanced, seeing the phone fall, before… *Holy shit*… The video was frozen on Dr Kalson, the image was blurred, but the black tendrils that extended from her body like the antennas of an ant or the horns of a beetle, were unmistakable. I dropped the phone for a second time today.

I switched on the main interior lights and searched below me. I saw the phone was lodged under the brake pedal. I stretched and picked it up, before locking it and leaning back.

I resisted the urge to play the video again, not wanting to confirm what I had seen, as to believe it would mean I’d need to come to terms with it, and I was not ready for that.

I heard Gus continue to pant in the back. I adjusted the mirror to look for him.

“Are you okay back there?” I said, trying to find him in the reflection.

“Gu..” I stopped midway.

I saw his tongue loll out of mouth, his chest rapidly flexing in and out. The black creatures that covered Emma’s body, were now falling out of my dog’s mouth with haste. They disappeared into his fur like large fleas, infesting his body like an insect plague. He was oblivious to this invasion to his flesh. When I turned to look at him, I knew I wouldn’t see them. But whatever was happening was tiring him out.

I didn’t know what to do. Part of me wanted to hug him and tell him he was going to be okay. But another part of me, a much larger part, wanted him out of the van as soon as possible. I panicked and I got out and closed the door behind me.

The air was still and chilly. My breath turned to mist and dissipated into the night sky. I felt sick to my stomach. Whatever had Emma and Dr Karlson, now had my best friend. I placed my hand on the side door and I contemplated opening it, and letting Gus out into the cold night, then quickly getting in and locking all the doors.

*But I couldn’t do that, could I?*

But I also couldn’t go back in there and risk whatever it was getting me. I let go of the handle and paced back and forth, trying to come up with a solution that meant I didn’t have to do what I knew I needed to.

I heard Gus scratch at the door.

*I could throw some food into the bedroom, then lock it behind him. No, he hasn’t eaten in days, he’s hardly going to fall for that.*

Gus whined, wanting to be let out and with me.

Without a second thought.

I opened the door.

And let him run.

He ran straight past me.

He headed for the trees.

He disappeared.

Then the sounds of his paws dissipated until there was only silence.

I wondered if he knew, and was saving me from himself. My heart broke. I tried to reason with myself, that this was the right thing to do. However, now that it had happened, I knew it wasn’t. I had betrayed him and he had only showed me love.

I returned to the van, locking the door behind me. I broke down and cried. The choice I had made was becoming all the more real. I switched off my phone, trying to preserve as much battery power as I could.

I turned the main lights off and sat in the dark. All I could think about was my dog out in the cold, on his own. How he’d be scared and lost, slowly starving.

The tears wouldn’t stop, and the anxiety I felt earlier turned into a smarting regret and depression.

The cuts on my face throbbed as the salt from my eyes coated them. Touching it, I winced. I returned to the cabin of the van. I flicked on the small light to check my cheek. The red marks were angry and possibly infected. I stretched my mouth open to check the wound.

*FUCK!* I screamed to myself, as those little bugs that covered Emma, that enveloped Gus, poured out of my cuts and into my mouth. I heaved, trying to spit. I slapped my face in an effort to free them from me. I forced my fingers down my throat and wretched.

*Go away! Get off me!* I shouted at them.

But there was nothing there.

I returned my gaze to the mirror, my face was now covered in them and they descended down my shirt.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.

I opened them gently, and this time, it wasn’t fear I felt, it was worse than that. It was an acceptance. There wasn’t as many as before. A few scuttled over my skin and I slapped myself as I saw them in the reflection. After a couple of minutes, they were all gone. Hiding in the shadows, under my armpits, under my clothes, doing their best not to be seen.

I sank into the chair, wondering how long I had left. I thought about Gus. *Shit, Gus.*

I bounded out of the van and shouted for him, “Gus, buddy, please come back!”

The internal light of the van did a good enough job lighting the tent I saw on the way in.

“Help, I’m looking for my dog,” I said, not caring if the occupants were sleeping or not.

Up close the fabric was frayed and ripped. I assumed the tent was abandoned.

“Gus?” I shouted again.

I was frantic with panic.

*What was I thinking, letting him run away into the night.*

The tears returned and I began to contemplate life without him. Thinking of him lost in the wilderness, getting cold and frail as the days turned to nights and back to days again.

I carried on shouting aimlessly, until I couldn’t anymore. I felt impotent. I thought about how I wouldn’t be able to see him greet me as I got home from work. How I wouldn’t be able to throw a ball for him again. How he wouldn’t be there to remind me I wasn’t alone.

Reluctantly I returned to the van. I saw Gus’s ball sitting on the dashboard, resting against the windshield. I picked it up and squeezed it my hand. It squeaked, like the small animal it was meant to represent. I opened the window and threw it out, just for one last time.

“Go get it, buddy,” I said, winding up the window.

I made my way to the bedroom and got into bed. Looking up at the ceiling, I wondered how on earth was I going to sleep. I closed my eyes and hoped.

***

I woke abruptly and sat up, not understanding what roused me from my sleep. Then I heard it. It was a scratching, but very faint. I pulled back the covers and up.

Almost rhythmic in their nature, they continued. I rubbed my eyes, and entered the front of the van.

*There it was again*.

It was coming from outside.

I waited to hear it again, but I didn’t. In the darkness I kept still.

Then I heard a whine.

My heart burst, it must be Gus.

Quickly I unlocked the door, and he bounded in and dropped the ball at my feet, wagging his tail. I hugged him like I’d not seen him in years.

***

That was five days ago now. I’ve put duct-tape over the rear-view mirror and any surface that is too shiny. I knew something infested the dog and I, but I didn’t want to be reminded of it.

I feel different now. I feel compelled to return to the city, to be with other people in a way I’ve not felt before. But I know that’s not me; it’s the infestation wanting to spread. I won’t let it however, if that’s the last thing I do.

Every day we are travelling further and further into the country.

I’ve stopped at a couple of gas stations, paid through the glass; in and out jobs. Resisting the urge to go inside and interact with people, knowing that if I do, whatever is in me is going to infect.

I’ve been trying to call Steven, but he hasn’t been answering his phone, and now I’m getting a disconnected signal. I hope he’s okay. But I cannot return, I can’t risk it. I hear voices, my voice, although it’s just a masquerade, telling me I should check on him, he’s probably in danger – they’re probably right – but so am I.

I’ve got an hour or so left on my laptop battery before I need to charge it, but I think I’ve said all I’ve got to say. A part of me wants to delete this, but *dammit* I’m not going to listen to that.

I’ll let you know if anything else happens, but until then, I’m going to be in the hills with my dog, just trying to live as best we can, until we run out of money. And then? I don’t know.

If you meet anyone who is behaving strangely, please look at them without looking, just to be safe. Whatever it is, it doesn’t discriminate and it wants us all.

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