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You Look Like You Have a Heart

Chapter Text

“I want to help you.”

I keep on moving, going to each cell to gaze in at each insane resident, wary of just how strong those bars really are. Some yell, some bang on their metal cages, one guy mutters about dates, about some events in the past, and one guy warns me about the danger of the Walrider.

“Just a moment. I just need to...”

The glint of a metallic battery catches my eye from within one open cell, and so I duck in to retrieve it.

“I need to tell you a secret.”

Battery in my jacket pocket, I quickly turn around and- “AH fuck!”

There’s some fucker in a straitjacket right in the open doorway, just standing there like he had made it his job to scare the living hell out of me when I turned around. God. Asshole.

His arms are bound so tight around his sides that he ain’t getting out of there any time soon, and his eyes and mouth are covered as well. Whoever this guy is, was he so dangerous and messed up that it warranted this kind of treatment? Were the doctors stopping him from hurting others, or from hurting himself?

“Sneak up on me like that, huh...” I mutter more for myself than him, hovering in front of him and waiting for him to get the fuck out of the way so I can leave.

Oh wait. Eyes covered. Wow. Smart, Miles. This place really is getting to me.

I clear my throat and grip my camera tight, raising it to document this little gem in front of me. I just know people will go crazy over the way he’s bound, how tight those ropes are over his mouth and eyes. Hell, they might have even carved the poor guy’s eyes out under that thing. If this tape even has the slightest chance of getting shown to the outside world, you bet I’m gonna make it as incriminating as possible. I am gonna fuck Murkoff sideways. And, if I just unfortunately meet my demise in this hell, well, some lucky patient's gonna have quite the entertaining movie to watch over my rotting corpse.

“Silky. You look so silky...” The guy mutters with a lisp, slightly rocking back and forth on his feet. His head is tilted exactly in my direction, like he really can see me somehow. But he can’t. ...Right?

“Sure,” I say, getting pretty disturbed now. Talk about creepy. “Back up.”

He doesn’t move an inch, just tilts his head more, like I’ve seen curious dogs do sometimes.

“Okay then,” I grit out. That’s the way he wants it, okay then.

Slowly, as gently as I possibly can, I press my left fist against his upper shoulder and give a push, hoping, praying, that I didn’t just unlock the door to his unstoppable psycho rage or something by touching him. Probably should have warned him before you did that, Miles. Guy’s blind, after all.

He does jolt a bit at the sudden touch, but otherwise remains motionless, tilting his head down at my hand.

Okay. Awkward.

I push harder, and he finally seems to get the idea, his feet shuffling backwards until he’s far enough away that I can slip out of the cell and continue on. He stops moving as soon as I stop touching him.

“I have an itch,” he murmurs after me.

Yeah, well, have fun with that, buddy.

When I make the mistake of entering another cell to check for anything useful is when I think maybe I do deserve to get my body ripped from my neck for my sheer stupidity. He’s standing there blocking me, once again. Just standing. Head tilted in my direction, like he can see me from behind the binds.

I sigh lightly and approach him again. He seems to notice this somehow and stands up a little straighter.

“What do you want from me?” I ask, my voice low and serious. I can’t fuck around with this anymore. Not when the ex-military jack-off is somewhere nearby. I won’t die for this psycho.

“I want to help you,” he says, faint and simple. Like it’s so obvious.

I can only shake my head in complete bewilderment. “I- How??”

For a few seconds, he’s silent. Then he swallows hard; I hear it and see his partially-exposed tongue move. “Are you my friend?”

Oh fucking hell.

“Sure,” I bite out, shifting my weight on my feet. “Yes. Friends.” Hopefully “friend” isn’t some code word for something else to him. Like permission to murder or sodomy test-dummy. Yeah, I’ve had enough of that for a life time.

“Oh. Friend,” he mumbles, sounding overjoyed. For whatever reason is beyond me. Then again, friends are far and few in between in this cesspool. Maybe a part of me is a little relieved, too, to have found someone slightly lucid, not naked, and deprived of a preference for my liver and tongue.

“Yes. Friend,” I confirm, glancing over his shoulder. A patient on the second floor meets my eyes from across the room and draws his thumb over his throat, real slow, while licking the air in front of him like he’s competing for world’s cunnilingus master. Nice.

“You’re so silky... Friend,” my unfortunate pal mutters again, and that’s about all I can take anymore. “Let me-”

I reach out with a fist to guide him backwards again, seeing as how it worked so well the first time, but he takes a step forward now and meets my hand dead-on. I freeze.

“Help me, friend... And then, I can help you.”

He speaks in that same odd, soft way, breathing out his words around the gag, gasping in hard after every sentence. His voice is extremely breathy, I notice. Light as a whisper across a sheet of paper. It’d be almost calming in a way, if his entire presence wasn’t so disturbing.

“You mean help with your...?” The words remain unsaid, but he knows what I mean, and he nods. “Right,” I tell him, pretty distracted by the guy still muttering dates near us. “Back on up so I can get out of here then.”

He turns and walks out with no fuss this time. I exit right behind him, scanning the room for an easy escape route while I walk in case this vacation turns south. It looks like there’s a bed pushed up close enough against the far wall that I might be able to use to get up to the second floor. That’s something.

The patient stops as soon as he gets under the light in the middle of the room, right beside the freshly head-less body still leaking blood onto a puddle on the floor. He turns to face me again, tilting his head expectantly. I step around Chris’s latest playmate and shuffle within arm’s length.

What the hell have I gotten myself into.

“Alright, then,” I sigh out, tucking my camcorder under my arm and reaching out.

What the hell am I doing.

Hesitant, questioning my actions the whole while, I gently prod at the man’s wrappings. The bindings are so tight around his face that I can’t even get a pinky finger in under them, so I trace them around to the back of his shaved head, searching for a weak spot.

“So why did they do this to you?” I ask. Might as well make some idle conversation while I work.

“I don’t think they liked me very much...” he whispers with his slight lisp, voice still light as a breeze. I feel warm breath on my face and grimace, leaning back a bit. I didn’t realize how close I had gotten to him while trying to get this damn thing off his face.

My finger eventually snags a tight knot in the binding, a small one just under his left ear, hidden under several layers, and I struggle to wrestle it free. He makes a small noise of discomfort and flinches, but otherwise stays silent through the process. What a trooper.

I know the fucker is lying. He has to have done something to make the doctors wrap him up like a bank vault. Hell, for all I know, he’s the most fucked-up individual in this animal pen, maybe a mass murderer, a serial killer, or a part-time collector of body parts, and here I am, just casually setting him free.

He’s the only patient I’ve seen so far in these terrible confinements, so just what is his deal? What makes him such a special snowflake?

I pause in wrestling the knot free and think the situation over. Am I really doing the right thing here? Right for my life expectancy, that is. I know the poor guy’s all helplessly bundled up, but still.

“Hng...” he grunts, capturing my attention. “Friend. Hurry. I have an itch...”

Grimacing and shaking my head, I pull hard at the knot, throwing all caution to the wind. Fuck it. The worst the guy can do is try to bite me to death, after all.

He makes another whimper as he grits through the pain, but it doesn’t last long as the weak material of the knot gives under my fingertips and his bindings loosen. Holding one end, I slowly start to unwrap it from around his head, revealing angry red markings where it was pressing so hard into his flesh. They almost look like scars.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he begins muttering over and over again, unnerving me.

It’s god awful doing this. More so than I thought it would be. In some places, particularly around his eyebrows, the bandages stick to his flesh, held there by blood along with some other clear substance. Did they really try to glue this fucking thing to his face??

“Just about done,” I mumble, yanking quickly. Just get it over with, like a band-aid. Surprisingly, he doesn’t make a sound when I violently yank on it and tear dry blood from his skin. But he was uncomfortable earlier when I was just prodding? I suppose the intense pressure feels worse than the wounds underneath. That’s so fucked up to me I can barely wrap my head around it.

“Soon.. Oh, soon. Thank you, thank you,” he continues without pause, breathing heavily now.

As creepy as it is, I can hardly blame him. I’d be excited to get out of this mess, too.

As soon as the bandage falls away from his eyes, revealing what’s underneath to me, it’s like a freezing wave crashes into my body and forces my hand to pause. Rude as it might be, I can’t help but stare, my eyes growing wide as I stand still and listening to him mumble his little heart out.

Under the wrappings over his eyes, there are two sunken depressions where his eyeballs should be. Over these depressions, stretching across the entire eyelids, are thin stitches. It sickens me to my stomach to even think it, but I know there can’t be anything under those two hollow, sewn up spots. His eyeballs just aren’t there anymore.

I let the bandage fall to the floor as I stare.

Mouth now free, he stretches his jaw and laps eagerly at his lips. “Mmm... Thank you so much. Silky friend...”

The red marks etched into his skin from the pressure look more like scars than pressure marks that will fade over time. Maybe they really won’t fade over time at all.

I swallow hard, taking at large step back and manning my camera again to film whatever the hell I’m looking at right now. “Uh,” I blurt out, at a complete loss for words. A strong feeling of sickness washes over my stomach. Just... holy shit. “What uh. What happened to your eyes there?” My voice betrays my distrust.

“Mm,” he moans deeply again with his mouth closed, tongue still attacking his lips like they’re his favorite things in the world. Ignoring my question completely, he straightens up and takes a step towards me, leaning forward, before he gasps aloud. I flinch from the sudden noise. “I knew it!” he breathes out. “You look like you have an itch!”

He lets out a giggle after his sentence, like it’s some kind of joke to him.

“I asked what happened to your eyes,” I demand again, scooting around him and backing up towards the bed against the pillar. This entire situation is starting to feel really off. I’m beginning to think that I’ve done something very wrong by undoing these bindings from him.

His head follows my movements exactly, with startling precision, and he starts to follow me like a lost puppy again.

“Friend... Help,” he mumbles out. Though his binds are gone, he still speaks with a faint lisp and the same breathy voice. His crossed arms wiggle under the jacket, indicating what exactly he wants help with next.

“I don’t think... that’s..” A good idea. I don’t say it. I continue to back up until my spine touches the edge of the bed frame.

“Nuuurse! Is that you?” the patient above us calls out in the sleaziest voice imaginable. Okay, maybe climbing up isn’t such an appealing idea after all.

The blind patient continues in his amble towards me while I’m distracted. Where he had a habit of stopping before, a few feet before me, he boldly crosses now and begins to invade my personal space with no shame. A smile on his lips, he steps close enough that he could hug me if his arms were unbound. I barely have time to think before he leans in, sniffing loudly and pressing his face close to mine.

My camera thuds to the ground as I give him a violent shove, backing away from the bed frame where he’d cornered me. What. The. Fuck.

I watch as he falls back heavily onto the floor, with nothing to soften his fall, crying out when his head bangs against the dirty ground. The thud of his skull echoes through the room.

Taking this opportunity to grab my camera and check it for damage, I step back over his prone form and get one knee onto the bed, ready to get the fuck out of here, before I hear him gasp out.

“Ah... Friend..! I want- I need to help you!”

I don’t know why, it’s stupid as all hell, but I actually hesitate at those small, pathetic words. He sounds so desperate. Pleading. And I bet it really does hurt to fall back like that unable to break your own fall with your hands. Ugh, goddamn it.

Groaning, I get off the bed, crouch behind him, quickly, so as to not touch him for too long, grab his shoulders and push. There’s a spot of blood on the back of his head now, a wound from the fall. He gets to a sitting position and settles there, apparently content, crossing his bare legs and turning his head back and forth repeatedly, like he’s trying see with his ears.

I’ve heard of people losing their vision and learning to compensate for it with other senses, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the bastard really can “see” me right now. Would explain why he’s so good at following my exact movements.

“You can’t help me; you can’t do anything,” I snap at him, pretty fucking fed up by now. I’ve spent far too much time dicking around with this idiot. “I helped you out. I'm done. Just stay here, keep your head down, and maybe you won’t get it ripped off. I’m leaving.”

“The Walrider will get you!” someone yells from across the room.

“Silky friend. You smell like... You sound like mist.”

I don’t know what to say to these people anymore. I really don’t. Maybe I should give up trying to say anything at all. Never should have said anything to begin with.

I sit on the bed, setting my camera beside me, and run my fingers through my hair, trying to calm down. Deep breaths, Miles. Deep breaths.

“You look so... Rip my head? You would hurt me?” His voice is slow and even. Patient. Using an entire lungful of air to huff out one soft sentence at a time. I rub my eyes with the backs of my hands. “...Are you really my friend?”

“Walker. Chris Walker!” I almost yell at him, frustration eating away at me. His body flinches at the sound of my voice. The whole cell block seems to quiet down around us. “The big fucker?? Killing everyone?! He’ll hurt you, not me!”

He rocks back and forth on the floor, silent for a while, as I catch my breath. Finally, he opens his mouth.

“Oh... My other friend.” A light smile graces his scarred lips. “I have a lot of friends.”

“....”

I am beyond words once again.

I highly, highly, highly doubt that Walker is really this guy’s “friend”, in any sense of the word. Now the fact that he imagines that Walker is his friend, that I can believe.

“Fear the Walrider!!!” that same guy yells.

He has the pleasure of getting a response this time from the cell above him. “Oh, fuck you! Fuck your backwater, devil-worship horseshit! Come jack me off, Walrider! Suck me, ghost bitch!”

I can’t stay here any longer. I really can’t. I’ve had it up to here with this entire asylum. I feel like I’m losing brain cells by the minute.

Getting off the bed, I crouch in front of the blind patient, using his legs like arm rests as I grab the top buckle on his jacket and rip it open. He starts to pant and bite at his lip again, in excitement I’m guessing, breathing right onto my face, but I hurry and unbuckle the second latch before I have a chance to change my mind about the whole thing. I loosen the strap over his crotch as fast as possible, trying not to think too much about it.

With that over and done with, I sit back on my heels and wait, but he only flails for a while, straining his arms in the sleeves before scooting in a circle and presenting his back to me.

“No.. Close, friend.”

Ah. I see. I quickly undo the extra buckles on the back that keep his arms fastened and help to ease the long sleeves around to his front. He immediately lets out a loud giggle of glee, stretching his arms as well as he can while still in the sleeves. Ignoring a faint itch of doubt and worry crawling around in my mind, I turn him back around and grab his right arm, helping him get it out of the sleeve.

He smiles and laughs into my face.

His left arm is next, and, together, we help to lift the jacket off and over his head.

“Oh god! Fuck, why!” I blurt out, jolting back and pacing away.

His left arm is just a red, scarred stump at the end, no hand to be seen, and his right arm is a mottled, bumpy, tumorous mess. His remaining hand is severely deformed.

“God. Fuck...” I groan in repulsion, turning back around to look at him stretching his limbs out in pure joy.

Well at least I don’t have to worry about him hurting me anymore.

He laughs and reaches out for me with both arms now, his one hand making grabby motions with the remaining fingers.

“Heh heh! Friend! We’re the same now! Come here. Let me...”

“Yeah. Uh.” I scoop up my camera, wondering if I should grab his hand and help him up or if that would hurt him in some way. His hand looks... not good. At all. “Yeah... I have to go.”

“Wait.” I turn back and pause, listening. “I have an itch.” His club of a hand hovers over an empty eye socket, prodding at the stitches. “I itch...”

Is that really his itch? Has that been his itch all along? Is that what happened to his fucking eyes?

Did he...

I can’t even handle thinking about it, so I don’t. As I get back on the bed for the third time, beyond ready to leave, I notice him push himself up to his feet, still surrounded by that bizarre, child-like wonder, and reach out for me.

A soft moan rises in his throat. “Mmm.. Let me. I need to help you.”

I grit my teeth and quickly grab the ledge above me.

“I need to itch you. Friend. I know where your itch is... I understand. It’s a secret.”

Pulling myself up, I look back down at him one more time, pants-less and bare-legged, straitjacket on the floor, exposing his prison shirt underneath. He hovers by the bed with his arms at his sides as if waiting patiently for me to come back down so he can scratch my “secret itch” for me.

I can’t help it. I raise my camera to film him one last time, zooming in on his hollowed and scarred eye sockets with morbid curiosity. Honestly, a part of me really hopes he makes it somehow.

This delusional psycho, all bound up because he scratched his own eyes out and tried to help others scratch theirs out as well. I kind of actually feel sorry for the guy, though I know I have no right to. He’s hurt himself, probably hurt people in the past. Who knows.

Sighing, wondering what this messed up place has done to me and what it can only do to me in the future, I have no choice but to move forward, pushing the suggestive voice behind me to the back of my mind.

“Nuuuurse! I’m gonna need some help getting clean... Heh heh. Nuuurse...”

Chapter Text

Walker’s footsteps are more like earthquakes than a human’s foot hitting the ground, though that may just be because my face is pressed so hard against the wooden boxes in front of me you’d think I’m trying to make love to them with my cheek.

I’m down in the goddamn sewers, of all places. Forced under the building like a shooed-away rat. Holed up behind a stack of boxes like a kid hiding from the boogeyman. Not entirely inaccurate.

I think I’m really starting to lose it. I really think I am.

The splash of Walker’s feet fading as he walks further away cues my body to turn on auto-pilot, racing out from behind the boxes and sprinting to the last valve that will drain the water on the lower level.

I’m so pumped with adrenaline, like a junkie on a rush, that I barely even remember running back and hurrying down that ladder. He tried to grab me, I think, thick fingers and sharp nails brushing the air by my face before I ducked and damn near dove through the hole on the ground. Slipped at least three times on the wet rungs and almost bashed my face on the metal, but I held it together.

Just more shit at the bottom. Of course. More tepid, stinking water. Drowned and bloated bodies rotting in the moisture.

I have to cover my mouth to even make it through without throwing up.

On my way up another ladder, I come very close to losing today’s dinner. A face peeks into my view when I’m half-way up and holding down my own vomit, and I almost slip on the rungs once again. Catching myself with quick fingers, trying to drown out the thundering pound of my own heart, I linger there for a long time, weighing my options.

Climb up and get murdered? Climb down and spend more quality time with those unfortunate bastards who didn’t escape before the sewer flooded? Stay on this rusty ladder for the rest of my life and slowly starve to death? I can’t really see the appeal of any of them, honestly.

Biting my tongue hard, I make the obvious choice and continue to climb, slowing as I near the top and peeking over the lip of the hole for safe measure. There’s no one to be seen. Just more festering water and rusting metal. Looks like I get to live for a few more minutes at least. Lucky me.

A ways ahead, Father Martin is singing near the end of the long tunnel, waving his flashlight around and humming like there’s not a care in the goddamn world.

I peek through the rocks at his hazy form. The sound of him makes my skin itch. It makes my blood crawl.

“Stop! Where are you going?! ...Martin!”

He doesn’t answer back. Of course he doesn’t. He just shushes me and hums and slowly walks away. I watch him leave through the cracks in the piled up rocks.

This is a game for him, isn’t it? Some kind of fucked up game. A pretend preacher playing hide-and-go-seek. And I’m playing right into his hand.

The friendly face I meet in the next room doesn’t do much to calm me. Guy blurts out that Wernicke’s dead, eagerly explaining that he’s been dead all along and that the patients know that. I don’t know what to say back to that. He’s all boxed in, barricaded in the corner of the room like he doesn’t want company, neither bad nor good, so I just make a quick note of the tidbit he gives me and move on.

Down here, further down, the water runs pure red with blood. I have to crouch in the shit, squeeze through openings on my hands and knees, blood soaking in and staining my jeans a deep crimson, and when I emerge, there’s just more hell waiting for me.

A massive area with water up to my fucking waist. Guess I don’t have to worry about the blood on my pants anymore.

Every step I take through the flooded room is careful and hesitant. It has to be. It almost feels like I’m about to step on a landmine. I’m worried someone could be in the water here, waiting to grab my ankles or something. I wouldn’t put any of these nutjobs past a trick like that.

The farther I go, the more paranoid I get, my heart racing and my hands sweating. My camera is clutched tight and damn near glued to my face as I try to pick my way through the pitch black pool with the help of the night vision.

When the sound of chains rattles from somewhere to my right, I know I can’t afford to be cautious at all anymore.

‘Walker’s really a piece of work,’ I joke to myself, frantically wading away from the jingle of chains, all while trying to not make too much noise. ‘Guy must wanna marry me; he follows me around so much.’

I’m really only joking it over in my head because otherwise I’d be crying and shitting myself. I know that. I know there’s nothing funny about this at all.

There’s nothing funny about how my fingers slip when I jump to grab the ladder with Walker racing up right behind me. There’s nothing funny about how I scramble up for my life, panicking over whether he’s going to try and rip the ladder from the wall and drag me back down. The man sitting in the chair at the top, holding his head in anguish and rocking back and forth, doesn’t find this funny at all either. But I laugh.

I laugh straight from my gut, scream back down the ladder for Walker to go fuck himself, and wonder what the hell I’m even saying anymore. The patient in the chair scoots himself back into the corner to get further away from me. I mentally wish I could join him.

When I’ve gathered myself and stopped acting like a lunatic, there is nothing but the two of us in this small room and silence. A glance to the man reveals that he’s turned his body away from me completely, curling in on himself and clutching the sides of his head. Same here, pal.

My pants and the bottom of my jacket are absolutely soaked. My jeans are heavy with water, clinging to my legs and weighing me down.

I faintly hear the splashing of water as Chris wades away downstairs, most likely attempting to find another way up. I’m extremely tempted to make a note of what just happened to me, and almost do, but I suddenly hear voices whispering from around the corner and freeze.

Broken fragments of sentences drift in the still air. I can clearly recognize two voices.

“No-... You can’t see it. Not like I-...”

“Agh! Just shut up. ...-take you here...”

I look back to the man in the chair, but he has nothing to offer. Big surprise. Bracing myself, I head towards the only way forward, step through an open gate, and find myself staring at white sign reading “MALE WARD”. There’s a small arrow underneath pointing to the right.

I step closer to film it and that’s when I catch the shadows of two figures standing to my right, directly where the arrow is pointing.

In the narrow hallway, two men are walking side by side under the dusty lights. One of them is completely naked from head to toe, bare as the day he was born, and the other is wearing his patient uniform and holding a stolen security nightstick in his right hand. They’re walking towards me, so I should have been spotted, but the man with the baton is staring straight down at the ground and the other just doesn’t seem to care.

They stop at the closest doorway, a good few feet down the hall, and I dare to step back towards the open gate to get away, my mind quickly filing through all the potential hiding places in that small room by the ladder. Unfortunately, there are not many.

I move as slowly as possible so as to not draw attention to myself. The patients are standing right under one of the scarce light bulbs in the hallway, so I can see their features if I squint hard enough.

The man with the nightstick, the one peering into the room they’re in front of, has a face full of scars. Nothin’ I haven’t seen before. He’s a big guy, broad-shouldered and muscular, like every one of the other patients, but he doesn’t look any bigger than average. If I have to, I could fight him off.

The other figure, the naked one, is just as average-sized. Looks like his arms caught the worst of the messed up treatments done to him. They’re red, scarred, and bumpy. And one of his... One of his hands is missing.

I swear I’ve seen that somewhere before. I swear I have. Before the water got my pants soaked and Walker almost murdered me twice. Before the foul smell of the sewers and seeing Father Martin again. I swear I’ve seen...

The man with the straitjacket. That patient I helped in the prison block.

But it can’t be the same guy. Can it? All the way over here? How did he- “What??”

It doesn’t even register to me I’ve blurted something out loud until they both turn to look. Well, “look”. One looks and the other tilts his eyeless face in my direction and teeters forward a step.

Well, that confirms it.

I don’t have time to stutter anything else out but that one dumbass question, because the nightstick guy’s face is contorting into rage and the grip he has on his weapon tightens as he turns to face me.

“Get back!” he yells, stepping in front of the eyeless man. His naked friend paws at his back and tries feebly to get around him.

“Get back if you know what’s good for you! Look, you’ve already pissed yourself!”

...I have?

I can’t help but take my eyes of him and look down. Someone tells you something like that, you gotta look down. I glance down at my crotch in surprise, at the water dripping from my jeans and making a small puddle at my feet. Oh. Makes sense that he would mistake that as something else.

“I just want to pass by,” I say, raising my hands and my camera along with them in the universal sign of pacification.

The asshole growls and smacks the nightstick against his palm in response, obviously not convinced, but the blind patient peeks out from around his shoulder at the sound of my voice. “Wait. I’ve seen you before...”

His mumbling trails off and is overwhelmed by the sudden yelling of his companion, who steps forward and forces my heart into a swell of panic. “Get back! Get back or else!”

Then he’s suddenly rushing towards me, not wasting any time with letting me back off. I suspect he never would’ve let me get back even if I had made an attempt to.

He raises the nightstick high over his head, ready to bring it down over mine, but I race forwards and past him, ducking and shielding my skull with one arm just in case I’m not fast enough.

It’s a mad scramble to get past the other patient, awkward and jostling, mostly because I’m fighting for my life while he’s crowding his naked body against me and trying to cling to my arm. I manage to shake him off in time, the nightstick beating down hard on my shoulder blade instead of my skull, but fuck, does it still hurt like hell.

I grunt and continue to sprint down the hall, turning into the first room I come across and another after that, until I’m stumbling down a curved flight of stairs and the yelling behind me trails away to silence.

Convinced I’m in the clear, I lean back against the brick wall and focus on catching my breath. My eyes are glued to the bloody water in front of me. Right back where I started. In the sewers.

God. I’m not going to make it, am I?

This place is a twisted maze. A vulture’s nest. Full of fucked up shit people can only try and fail to recreate in horror movies and stories made to scare kids and teenagers. It’s real for me. It’s all real for me. The horror story is what my life is at this exact moment.

I can’t make it. But I have to. It doesn’t make sense, but I know I have to. How many people would have gotten this far already? I have. I have to.

Heavy breathing from up the stairs makes my head instinctively whip in that direction, and I back away from the wall, ready to run again at the drop of a hat.

What struggles down the steps and stumbles into my view has me hesitating, however.

His naked form sways uncertainly, his right hand groping at the brick wall and his amputated stump rubbing uselessly at the curved railing as he ambles down one cautious step at a time.

I stand still and silent.

He can’t see me. He won’t know I’m still here if I don’t make any noise. He’ll turn around and go back the way he came.

Except he doesn’t.

I stay as quiet as possible, standing at the bottom of the stairs and taking even, shallow breaths. He stops just before the last few steps and huffs in something like frustration. His head turns back and forth; he stares at the wall for a while, angling his ear right towards me, before turning the other way towards the bloody sewer.

I watch his face scrunch up, a deep frown forming on his lips, before his foot slips from the step it’s on, making him gasp and clamber for the supportive railing. Afraid of him falling and coming into contact with me, I take a step away from the stairs, a step so quiet even I don’t hear it, but apparently that’s all he needed. His head hones onto it like a dog spotting a wild squirrel as he straightens himself up.

“Friend?” he whispers out. The word is soft and excited.

Dammit. I close my eyes and look away, condemning myself to the farthest, most painful, most fiery depths of hell for what I’m about to do. Just... dammit.

“Hey,” I grit out back.

The response is immediate. He bounds down the remaining steps eagerly, clumsily missing a couple and slamming his shoulder against the wall at the bottom. I step back into the bloody water to avoid getting caught up in the mess. “Friend! I didn’t want him to,” he rushes to say.

I debate running as I watch him turn and lean in my direction. “How did you get down here? You were in the prison block. How did you find me?” I ask.

“Mgh,” he mumbles, swallowing and shaking. His bare skin is slightly wet from when he practically rubbed himself against me back in that hallway. “You still look so- Mm... After you helped me, I made another friend. At first he didn’t like me. But we made good friends. He took me here. I don’t know the way...”

My eyes gaze over him as he waits patiently for my response. “I don’t want you following me.”

He doesn’t say anything to that. He takes another step towards me, and I take one back.

“What happened to your clothes?” I ask next. A stupid question, seeing as how every other patient and their mother has found quick enlightenment in the asylum nudist colony, but it might get him to start talking again at least.

“Oh,” he mutters, as if he just noticed that he’s not wearing anything. “I lost them... I didn’t like them, though.”

I sigh and look away down the sewer tunnel. A long way to go. This environment is starting to seem way too familiar. I’m far too used to seeing these moist brick walls and trails of blood in the water. I’m far too sick of it. I need out.

“Do you know a way out of here?” I ask, feeling like an idiot as soon as the words leave my mouth. He’s blind, Miles.

He takes a silent moment of breathing creepily and worrying at his lips with his tongue before he answers. “I know how to go home.”

I don’t even question it. I know that’s the clearest thing I’m going to get. I’m not going to get a straight answer out of this nutcase regardless of what I ask.

“Can you direct me out then? I feel like I’m going in circles.”

“Yes!” he grins. “I can show you my secret.”

I step back and run my fingers through my hair as he lets out a low giggle. What the hell am I getting myself into.

“What’s your name at least? Mine is...” I stop. Do I really want some random psycho knowing my name?

Oh, who am I kidding? What could happen to me? Identity theft? From inside an asylum? Besides, this guy’s been as docile as a cat each time I’ve seen him, albeit a creepy cat who follows you around and secretly wants to destroy your eyeballs or something. I make a mental note to keep my guard up around him in case he tries anything

“...Friend?” he asks suddenly, breaking me out of my thoughts. Oh right.

“Name’s Miles. Yours?”

He doesn’t say anything back for a while. He turns his head away from me and listens for something down the tunnel. Then he looks back and tilts his head. Has he forgotten his own name?

“Okay, then...” I mutter, cutting the silence.

I shrug my jacket off, still damp at the bottom and reach out for him very slowly. It’s not much, but it’ll be something. I’m not one of these cruel doctors, after all. I know the man’s going to need something to cover himself down here in the filth. Knowing him, he’d go up and rub his nude body against a rusty, moldy pipe because he thinks it “looks” soft, or silky, or whatever the fuck he likes. And, quite frankly, his naked body is creeping me out.

“I’m going to put some clothes on you, alright?” I ask gently, ready for an outburst.

He nods, steps forward, and holds his arms out like a child.

It’s a struggle, mostly because I’m wary of touching his arms, but I manage to get the jacket on him. It’s a little small for his muscular form, but it was always a little big on me, so it works out. I’m afraid it will remind him of the straitjacket if I zip it up all the way, so I leave it half open.

I’m right up near him during this, trusting him to maintain personal space boundaries, and he surprises me by behaving. He’s been pretty good about that, aside from that one time he tried to sniff my neck or whatever but, hey, I’m willing to forgive.

When I lean back to view him, he stumbles forward like he wants to be near me again, but I hold a hand out and plant it on his chest, leaning back.

“Stop,” I warn.

“Thank you... It’s so silky, friend.”

It seems telling him my name was a complete waste of time.

He begins to rub his cheek against the up-turned collar. “Mmm...” he damn near moans.

“Okay. That’s gotta stop, too,” I quickly mumble, turning away from him. Fucking creep.

This time, when I take a step forward in the water, I hear a mirrored step taken behind me, and I look back to see his stitched-up eyelids facing in my direction, his arms curled up against his chest to hug my jacket. Smiling and silent and waiting and eager.

Chapter Text

I see something in the darkness.

Inky and black. Misty. Maybe the “Walrider” is real. Really stalking me and waiting to kill me, like all the patients scream from behind their bars. Or maybe all our minds are just starting to meld into one, all tainted by the same dark flavor of insanity and haunted by this imaginary figure. I don’t know. I just don’t know anymore.

I couldn’t explain it to myself even if I wanted to. A big part of me prefers not to know.

The patient leads me through the sewers sure enough, but eventually it pretty much boils down to me leading him.

He stumbles more than once every couple steps and mumbles to himself like any insane person should I’m guessing, and damn, does it get annoying as hell. For the sake of time and my own lingering sanity, I end up grasping his upper arm as we walk together, helping to keep him stable and moving.

Guy seems to appreciate it well enough, ‘cause when he feels my hand touch his arm, he perks up like a spring daisy. I try not to let it bother me too much and just keep dragging him along. His bare feet pad quietly along the concrete underneath the water.

“What are you going to do?”

His sudden voice honestly scares the crap outta me, and I have to actively try not to flinch too hard. “W-What?” I stumble out.

I hear him clear his throat softly before speaking again. “When you get home...”

Ah. Right. ‘Home.’

“Uh. Just... Get out.”

His pace begins to slow at my words, and I have to give a jerk on his arm to keep him moving. Little shit’s beginning to be more trouble than he’s worth, if he’s even worth anything at all...

“Why would... you want to leave home?” he breathes out, like he can’t wrap his head around wanting to leave a blood-soaked asylum. “Home is where they take care of us. They clean us. And help us.”

“Yeah, they’re ‘helping’ you a lot less than you think actually.”

He’s silent for a while, and when I turn to glance back, there’s a deep frown on his lips. Eh. Guy can’t handle the truth, that’s not my problem. Not my job to fix what’s far too broken.

I pause our little expedition in front of a narrow space in between two wooden walls. Only way forward is between them. Now how the hell am I going to help him squeeze through this.

“It hurts outside,” he whispers. “Nothing silky.” My jaw clenches at the sound of his voice. It hints at an explosion. Something real crazy and real violent. I mean, I don’t know shit about psychos, but I’ve seen enough movies about crazy people to know most of them are anything but stable. Even my soft-voiced little friend here. I can’t help but keep my eyes fixed on him as he speaks, disturbed and weary. “You see things...” he continues. “It’s not fun.”

Shaking my head, I cast a quick glance to the wooden barrier. “There’s something blocking the way,” I say, ignoring his mumbling and hoping that will snap him out of it. “We’ll have to squeeze through.”

“You see, and it’s not fun... But don’t tell. It’s a secret, friend. Let me-”

My hand tenses around my camera, and I let go of his arm as he begins rocking in place. “Take two steps forward and feel the wood with your hand,” I push, not able to keep anger out of my voice any longer. Baby-sitting this asshole was a mistake. A big, dumb, stupid mistake.

His frown becomes a grimace as his lips start to twitch, and I have the horrible suspicion that he’s about to start crying. Dear god.

“Just let me tell you...” he whimpers, in a voice like a boy who had just watched his newborn puppy get run over by an 18-wheeler. He sounds like I’m holding a gun to his head or something, miserable and helpless and desperate. I just need to stop this entire train-wreck right in its tracks.

I grab his shoulders hard, leaning back in case he tries something funny, and stare down at my jacket rather than look into his face. I can’t look any longer at his eyes. I just can’t.

“Stop. Okay? I don’t know what the fuck is wrong with you, and frankly, I don’t really care, because I can’t do shit to help you anyway. I can get you out of the sewers and maybe somewhere safe. But you need to start listening to me. Right now. Understand?”

He doesn’t answer. He stands and shakes and rocks back and forth, but he doesn’t answer. Irritation starts to seize me as I raise my voice to get my point across.

“I don’t give a damn about you,” I tell him, honest and blunt. “I don’t know you, don’t care to know you, probably will never see you again once I get the fuck out of this place, or die trying to. Either way, I’m not your friend, I’m not your therapist, I’m not here to take care of you, clean you, or whatever the fuck. So stop it and do exactly what I say if you want to live for even one more day in your sad, miserable life.”

It’s harsh, I know that, but it has to be said. Seems to have done the job too, because he stops rocking and frowning, tilting his head and looking more alert than anything now. Perfect. Just the way I need him if he’s gonna be my watch dog.

Just as I’m about to get back to the goal of escaping from the rotting sewers one more time, because god, is the smell starting to get to me, as soon as I even slightly turn, the psycho nudges my side with an arm. Oh, I swear to-

“Are you mad with me? Don’t be mad.”

He doesn’t whimper it out all sad like he did before. There’s barely any emotion to his voice at all, really. He sounds more curious than anything. Kind of patient and calming. Like I’m the crazy one, and it’s his duty to console me instead of vice versa. What a laugh.

I humor the poor guy, nonetheless. “I’m not mad at you,” I mumble out, feeling more childish than I have in the past 5 years at least. My cheeks almost flush in embarrassment, like that kind of embarrassment that creeps up on you when you see something awkward happening from far away and yet still feel involved. Second-hand embarrassment. I wonder if that far-away feeling is healthy to experience about your own life, because that’s what I feel right now. Like I’m watching myself from outside my body or something.

Man, I’ve really got to stop thinking so hard. It’s driving me up the walls.

“Hug, so I know,” is the soft sentence that breaks me out of my spiraling thoughts. I almost don’t catch it, but then it echoes off the moist stone around us and snaps my brain in half.

“Hug,” he repeats while my mind continues to process the request. His arms open wide, displaying my own jacket to me and welcoming me closer. I blink.

In less than a second, his arms are wrapping around me, and mine around him in return. I just do it without thinking. We stand in the sewers and hug each other, just like he wanted.

It’s weird. It’s fuckin’ weird. It’s weird how it kind of feels nice, too. No, not kind of. It feels really nice. The feeling of connecting, physically connecting, with someone who doesn’t want to kill me for once, with someone who has shared even a tiny portion of my journey with me.

I have no choice but to hold him and listen to him breathe softly over my shoulder, feeling weird and awkward and mildly emotional. It’s like it all crashes down on top of me in this one moment. My grip unintentionally tightens, and he starts to rub a covered, disfigured arm up and down my back. The leather of my own jacket is smooth against my shirt.

“Okay,” I say, but neither of us move. Maybe I just say it to feel a little better about myself and what my life has become.

“It’s okay, best friend...” he whispers, and I hear the smile in his voice but I frown, because he couldn’t be more wrong. Nothing is okay. Absolutely nothing.

I don’t miss my new nickname, too: “best friend”. Apparently, somewhere along the line, I’ve been upgraded. Happy birthday to me, I guess. If I’m really this poor bastard’s “best friend”, damn, do I feel sorry for him. Though, here I am hugging the guy like a girlfriend I haven’t seen in ages, so maybe we’re both a little bit sad. Maybe we’re both a little bit more than just sad.

Surprisingly, he begins to pull away first, mumbling about how silky I was, and I’m not sure how that makes me feel about myself. A little pathetic, to be honest, that I wasn’t the first to let go.

I take a step back and rub my hands on the front of my pants for lack of anything better to do with them. Strangely enough, I feel calmer, in a way. I feel grounded.

“Right,” I say, and my voice is so soft even I almost don’t hear it. I know he does, though. “Let’s, uh. We have to keep moving.”

“I’ll help you get home...” he whispers with a nod, apparently back to his old creepy self, which is both comforting and disconcerting.

I like the guy when he’s making sense for sure, but, when he is, he just seems like such a regular guy then. I don’t know how long I can look at his stitched up eyes and scarred face, seeing him as just a regular guy, before it fucks so hard with my mind that I’ll be the one needing the straitjacket.

Just something about viewing the patients as a little less than human... helps me in some way. It’s fucked up, definitely, but I can’t look around me at all the shit being done to them and imagine them as people with moms and children and families. I would never make it out of here. I would curl up in a ball and wonder how the human race got so fucking twisted.

Gotta keep going. Move, move, move.

“Come on,” I urge, pushing my thoughts to the side before they have a chance to ruin me.

I turn sideways and shimmy into the crack, grabbing his arm and pulling him in after me. It takes a bit of groping at the wood and experimenting with the angle of his body, but he gets the hang of it soon enough, and we both shimmy through, one after the other. I keep hold of his jacket the whole time.

On the other side, he teeters forward a step and bumps into me, but I raise a hand to his shoulder and steady him.

“Stay close,” I warn, dragging him past a room piled full of bodies and flies. I make a mental note about it before squeezing my eyes shut and helping him up a set of stairs.

At the top, a white sign reads something familiar. MALE WARD.

“We have a long way to go.”

Chapter Text

In a room with an unresponsive patient in a chair, with a puddle of dark red blood under it, I pause for a second to think and almost lose my goddamn mind in the process.

We had to crawl through a vent to get into this room, after I secured my camera under my arm and pushed a metal container that was blocking the path. I crawled through first, my eyes glued to some guy on the chair in the middle of the room, because, although he looked completely out of it, you can never be too sure.

In fact, I’m standing in front of him now, still just as cautious, taking in his straitjacket and the bindings around his eyes and mouth. Would you look at that! Familiar. All too damn familiar. It seems my buddy isn’t the only one who needed to be tied up by the staff like a wild animal. How happy he will be to have found another “friend”.

Shaking my head in a mixture of disgust, pity, weariness and a million other things I can’t be bothered to sort out, I glance down at said buddy struggling through the vent and into the room.

Ya know, even with a bleeding and dying man as the centerpiece of this room, it’s a shit ton easier to think here. It’s not so damn claustrophobic like it was down in the sewers, where I thought every shadow, every drop of water, was another typed letter on my death certificate for the state of Colorado. Yes, praise God, praise Buddha, praise any big jolly man floating in the sky that we’re out of those sewers for good.

There’s also no one chasing me and trying to rip my head off or break my bones or do any other manner of horrible, invasive things to my tired body, so cheers to that, too. I’m all about that not being a thing currently.

My shoes thud against the gray concrete floor as I begin to pace, blood drips from the crotch of the man in the chair, and my blind buddy makes little grunts of effort as he struggles to push himself back to his feet with his disfigured, tumorous hand.

I’d say this is as good a place as any to take a break. Why not? Let’s all sit back and take a load off. Let’s see just how secondhand insane this place can make you, eh, Miles?

I run a hand through my damp hair and let out a deep breath, falling into a comfortable rhythm of pacing in front of the mutilated man in the chair. I’ll admit, it’s weird to look down at the bloody footprints I’m smearing on the floor and feel comfort, but.. I kinda do. I saw somewhere back in college that constant patterns and repetitive noises can make people feel calm. Used in meditation, holistic medicine, and phony shit like that.

In the mood to give it a whirl, I stop walking, close my eyes, and try to focus on my breathing. After everything I’ve been through, I think I more than deserve a little me-time.

The sounds of our breathing is quiet when I really listen hard; all three of us. My blind partner’s is the loudest by far, but even then, it’s soft. Rising and falling and rhythmic. Like if I stand here and keep listening to it, eventually I’ll be wrapped up in a wave and sailed out of the asylum. Maybe the sound of him breathing will seep from my ears into my chest and settle there, curl into a ball and sigh, like how I’m sighing right now, soft and slow, tilting my head back towards the ceiling, letting my arms hang by my sides.

My camcorder’s dead weight, but I hold onto it anyway. One of the only friends I’ve got.

When the light in the room begins to flicker, I can tell behind my closed eyelids. Rhythmic flashes as the old bulb starts to burn out and die.

Ah, yes... Just let me... Let me think. Think about the flashing lights. Think about my expanding and collapsing lungs. Think about the gentle sounds of two broken men breathing in my ears.

I bite my bottom lip, sigh again, bone-deep, and can’t help but groan softly with it, because this is the calmest I’ve felt since I pulled up in my jeep with my camcorder and documents on the passenger’s seat beside me.

Then someone in the room clears their throat, and my eyes fly open, temporarily blinded by the florescent bar light on the ceiling. I blink hard and gasp. Just like that, my heart is racing again. I’m sweating. My eyes dart to the only two entrances, but the door is still closed, and the patient wearing my jacket is still standing in front of the vent, swaying on his dirty bare feet.

Fuck... That happened. Maybe I’m more spiritual than I thought I was. If spiritual is a code-name for batshit crazy.

I glance at the stitches over his eyes before turning away. My now racing heart does a good job of snapping me out of that almost-hypnotic lull and thrusting my ass back into reality. It’s right back to work. No time for lunch breaks or bizarre spontaneous meditation when your job is infiltrating unethical and torturous companies. So it’s decided then. I throw the door open and peer into the dimly lit hallway.

“C’mere,” I remember to whisper over my shoulder.

There is no other option; we have got to keep quiet here. We’re in a new part of the asylum with God-knows-what lurking around in the darkness. Thankfully, my partner gets the hint and follows the sound of my voice with steps so light that I have to check if he actually listened. How close he is when I look to him scares the shit outta me, lurking there right over my shoulder, close enough to share breath.

Close enough to share breath is good. It’s better that way. No chance of a knife being plunged into my back. It’ll be plunged into his instead.

It’s dark as sin in this hallway though, especially to the left of us, so I snag the hem of his - my - jacket and tug him along after me to keep him close, staring through the camcorder's filter of night vision. I am the eyes for both of us, after all.

I fling open the closed door by the end of the hallway ready to turn and run faster than I have in my life, but all I see through the green light of my camera is a pool of blood and gore, and, believe it or not, what looks like a fuckin’ poem scribbled on the wall in black. Whether it’s dried blood or paint or some kinda marker, I ain’t sticking around to find out. It takes some squinting and leaning forward, my partner stumbling closer and bumping into my back, but I make out the words soon enough.

“FINGERS FIRST,” it reads, “THEN BALLS. THEN TONGUE.”

Okay.

Okay, yeah.

Yeah, sure, seems reasonable. Seems like a fuckin’ reasonable plan of action. So that’s what’s on the agenda for today! Huh. Fancy that.

I swear the harder I try to escape, the further into this God-awful place I get, like fighting in a tar pit.

“Move,” I hiss out, stumbling backwards and forcing the patient out through the open door. Paranoia is the only thing on my mind after reading that disturbing message. A strong urge to get eyes back in the hall and make sure no one is sneaking up on us drives my body to move fast.

No one is there. It’s empty and quiet as ever, to the point where if a mouse sneezed, I’d shit my jeans on the spot.

My buddy lost his footing and fell back against the wall when I shoved him, so, once I know for sure that we’re alone, I grab his upper arm and haul him back to his feet. He seems flustered, rightfully so, as a blind man who was just hissed at and pushed rudely out of a room. Truth be told, I’ve been a shitty partner to him in terms of communication, which will pretty much be essential if we hope to escape together and alive. I need to get my act together on that.

He leans on me once he’s on his feet, draping an arm over my shoulder, helplessly huffing out panicked breath into my face and desperately turning his head to listen to his surroundings.

Well, shit. Poor bastard probably thought we were in life-threatening danger. I probably almost tore the little guy’s heart out with that stunt I pulled. Keeping my eyes focused down the hallway, I let the guy lean on me as much as he wants to, wrapping an arm around his back to support him.

“It’s fine,” I whisper, both to myself and him. He turns his terrified face towards mine, mouth open, eyelids fluttering against their stitches, obviously not convinced. “It’s fine, it’s fine, I swear. But there might be some fucker nearby... Listen.”

Up until now, I’d been used to moving alone. Running alone, hiding alone, surviving alone. I’m usually no good with extra baggage. Journalists like me tend to live and work alone. But, eventually, we gotta address the elephant in the room here. If shit hits the fan somewhere along the line and there is only one empty locker, one secure hiding spot... Then...

“Listen,” I repeat, my mind working harder than my body. I barely feel it, barely take notice when the patient drapes both arms over my shoulders, tugging at the back of my neck and pulling me close. I absentmindedly lean back against the wall, holding him about the waist and still peering over his shoulder. He whimpers softly in my ear and squirms. “Listen, alright, if we- if we get separated, try and make it back here, okay? Not to here, exactly. The vent room. Remember to get through the vent, and try to push that thing back over it to cover your tracks. Then just stay as quiet as possible. No making new friends. Got it?”

Oh, yeah. What a stupid shit I am. Giving directions to a blind guy. In my defense, I have an excuse for being a complete idiot. It’s that we’re both scared shitless in a breached asylum full of criminal wack-jobs and violent serial killers. So there’s that.

“Vent room,” the larger man breathes, nodding. His breath brushes my short hair against my ear and tickles. “Vent room. My silky... Please, don’t leave me. We still have... We still have to get your itch...”

“Right,” I grunt out, easing him away and wondering when it got so familiar to make that kind of physical contact with him. I remember not even being able to look at the guy, at his blood-encrusted stitches, or the pressure scars still an angry red all around his face and mouth.

Now he’s almost my safety blanket. A human reminder of earlier times, of the fact that, no matter how far I tumble into this hell, I started somewhere. The entrance to the rabbit hole does exist.

All I know is that fear can do crazy things to a man, oh, yes I know that for damn sure, so it’s just easier to stop berating myself every time I feel like grabbing the dude’s remaining hand and holding onto it for dear life. I can’t even hope to cover up that wild desire any longer, like a teen would hide his skin mags under his bed. If we follow that analogy, by this point, my blind psycho skin mags are scattered all over the room, no hope of hiding those fuckers in a million years. My mom’s staring at them at this very moment, wide-eyed and gasping at the scandal of a muscular, criminally-insane man’s hand tightly entwined with that of her precious baby boy Miles’.

No use hiding it. The only thing I can do is pray that if something is about to swallow us up, when I grab hold of his hand, he holds mine back and doesn’t let go.

God. Just how fucked-up and desperate is this place going to make me?

Chapter Text

Fuck this place. Seriously. Fuck this place.

The patient and I are standing in a hospital room straight out of a horror movie; curtained gurneys running along both walls, lumps of mangled organs littering the floor. Rotting flesh, buckets worth of blood on the tile, and something that smells like fecal matter which is most likely emanating from the severed intestines I can see from where I’m standing.

So just goddamn delightful, really.

My blind buddy takes a deep sniff and sighs out almost wistfully while I try to get my gag reflex to stop having a seizure in the back of my throat. Around us, whoever are unfortunate enough to be behind those curtains, patients or otherwise, groan in suspended pain.

A blue folder on a medical tray by the wall thankfully steals my attention away from the audience of blood and body parts.

Doesn’t tell me much, just a page from a man named “Rick Trager”, a name I swear I’d seen before, writing about how he’s taken to cutting people up for his own sick enjoyment. The note is frightening, but not from its contents. The real horror is from how lucid he sounds, how perfectly aware he is of what he’s doing. This Trager’s not delusional in the way that most of the other patients are, fueled by mindless rage. This so-called surgeon is a true psychopath with complete lack of morals or empathy for human suffering.

In other words, he knows what he’s doing to these people, and he fuckin’ loves every bit of it.

I record the note and place it back down. While doing so, my blind guide wanders over to a gurney and takes it upon himself to peel back the curtain. I can’t make it over fast enough to stop him.

It’s hard to see with so little light, but there’s a man lying behind it who’s missing his leg. Oh, excuse me. Did I say missing his leg? Missing the flesh around his leg, that is. What’s left of it is exposed bone, the skeleton of a footless leg up to his knee. Some muscle and sinew still cling to it, a testament to how careless and shoddy the dissection job was. The poor bastard rolls his head from side to side, moaning towards the ceiling.

That’s enough to give me nightmares until I die of old age, if I’m lucky - or unlucky - enough to live that long. I wouldn’t mind being in my friend’s shoes right now, in terms of eyesight. Throwing the curtain closed, I step away, scanning the room and trying to bleach my mind clean of that image. Hard thing to do when there’s both written and living, breathing evidence of a mad surgeon who gets off on playing dissect the frog with grown men.

“I know...” my blind partner suddenly huffs out. Jesus Christ. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think he was trying to kill me just as much as the other patients, only via heart attack. “I remember the shapes of this place. The door is near, but up. If you want to run away from home, we have to go up, friend.”

“How many floors up?” I demand, spinning to face him.

“Whenever they took me in the elevator, it only dinged once.”

One floor then? If the main entrance is really only one floor up, then maybe we can do this. Maybe there’s a chance we can actually make it. Hell of a chance, but still.

“There should be an elevator,” he continues to mumble. He takes a moment to wet his lips, biting at his bottom one. “Somewhere.. The nurses took me...”

“Nurses,” I repeat thoughtlessly, scanning the room again. The doorway is blocked, but there’s an open vent on the ceiling. If I gave him an extra hand, we could probably both make it up there.

“The nurses used to tell me,” he mutters. I’m barely listening as I walk to the bed under the vent. “Elijah, stop! Or, how was your day today, Elijah? They took good care of us...”

Wait. What?

Elijah?” I blurt out, turning to him. He’s prodding at the stitches over his right eye, swaying slightly on his feet. “Is that you?”

As soon as that name leaves my mouth, he totally shuts down, silent and chewing on his lips. Then he twitches, turning his head away from me in jerky movements like he’s about to snap. Okay, Miles, let’s slow down here.. He’s mentally ill. Severely mentally ill. Maybe suddenly blurting his name out overwhelmed him and freaked him out.

There is something here though. There’s real potential. Up until now, I thought he was just another royally-fucked-in-the-head nobody, but, if I can get this patient to open up somehow, a personal statement against Murkoff from one of the inmates themselves would be priceless. I’d bet my left nut that anyone else I try to talk to, any other patient I stroll up to holding up my camcorder and asking these kinds of personal questions to is either going to spit in my face, throw something even more disgusting in my face, or just try to tear my face off altogether.

It’s selfish as hell and could backfire with one careless word, but if I can play him like a flute and get him to talk about his illness and his experience at Mount Massive, it could very well be one of the crucial nails for hammering the coffin shut on Murkoff once and for all. If it ever reaches the outside world, of course.

I raise my camera and steady it so the patient’s face is in the center of the shot. There we are. I’m a professional after all. Not the most appropriate place for an interview, but, as a solo reporter, you take what you can get.

“You know how my name is Miles, right?” I speak slowly, like I’m lecturing a toddler. I’ve never personally interviewed an insane witness before, but I have experience in taking statements from people who’ve been through recent emotional trauma. If this is anything like that, as long as I stay calm, they’ll stay calm.

The patient shakes his head, but mumbles something that vaguely sounds like my name. Sure, why not. A+ for effort.

“Yes, I’m Miles. So are you Elijah?”

It’s a pretty name that flows off the tongue like satin, prettier than the man rocking on his feet in front of me, that’s for sure. I try to piece together a pretty, boyish face to go with that pretty, boyish name, and it’s nothing at all like the scarred, deranged man I see.

He mumbles to himself for a bit, then gives me the tiniest smile and whispers, “I don’t know. Everyone called me that. You can call me that, too, if you want. Since you’re so silky, I won’t mind.”

“Uh. Sure.” I take a deep breath and sigh, looking around us. Nothing has entered the room, if you’re not counting a few extra flies milling around the organs on the floor. Still safe, for now. “Elijah, do you remember anything before the outbreak? Anything before the chaos happened?”

“Mmm... There was a man. He sounded nervous... But he looked really silky. He wasn’t one of us, I could tell. I followed him and asked him if we were friends. He didn’t answer and left... Then someone shoved me down, and I couldn’t move my arms anymore. That person didn’t say they were my friend, either. Only you did.”

I don’t know if I should even try to sort out that jumbled mess of a story. I have no idea who that “nervous man” is, but if someone was shoving him down and binding his arms, that had to have been after the outbreak. Seems like keeping his attention on track’s gonna be harder than I thought.

“Elijah. What about before that man? The people who treated you here. Did those people hurt you?”

Ignoring me, he raises his one hand and picks hard at the stitches on his eyelid. My hand flinches out instinctively to pull his arm down before he hurts himself.

I don’t know a lot about mental issues, hell, I took a single psychology class in college, and I slept through most of the lectures there. But, if I’m not mistaken, his disjointed manner of speaking and delusional beliefs point at something like a severe form of schizophrenia. Couple that with whatever the dream therapy experiments did to his mind, and it’s easy to see how he could be paranoid of itching behind his eyes and delusions that other people suffer from the same feeling.

“People got hurt,” he whispers, suddenly fixing his attention on me and stepping closer. “Soft people with soft parts. So soft and silky. I have secrets. Can I tell you, best friend?”

“O-okay,” I stutter, fumbling backwards, almost tripping over my own feet. Normally, I wouldn’t mind him getting close, he’s been harmless so far, but after seeing firsthand signs of his mental instability, it does make me a little nervous. “Hey, wait...”

He doesn’t. He corners me against one of the gurney curtains, forcing me to either stand still or fall back onto whatever wounded man is laying on the bed. Or, I remind myself, I could push him back. My arms freeze, though, and I can’t bring myself to do it. I can only stare into his face.

It’s funny how my mind pushed aside the fact that he was just as, if not more so, mentally unstable as any other patient here. It was just something I did subconsciously while we were traveling together. I forced myself to see him as something innocent, almost like a child. But I poked, and I prodded, and I got my wish. This patient, Elijah, I remind myself, is indeed opening up to me about his experience here. The only problem is that facing head-on whatever torture Murkoff did to break his already ill mind terrifies the daylights out of me.

I’m not dealing with a child. I’m staring into the face of a grown man in what looks to be his early 30s. Bigger than me, stronger than me, and in need of psychological help that he never got. Instead he got torture, scars, and suffering.

“Don’t be scared, best friend,” he breathes as he leans towards me. My hands shake around my camera. “You’re so much softer than the rest. Like a baby lamb. Come closer. I need to tell you...”

I stand as still as possible when he leans over. His amputated arm rubs at the side of my waist, like he wants to grab me there, but just doesn’t have the hand to do so. I can feel his breath, warm against my neck.

“I could see things before,” he mumbles in a surprising moment of lucidity. “Flashes of dark shapes and patterns. They made us stare at a moving screen for hours every day. And then the Engine. Silky lamb... They did something to me.”

Project Walrider.

Although my camera is not raised, thank God the audio is still recording this.

“What did they do?” I ask, on pins and needles, but Elijah doesn’t answer.

He presses his face into my shoulder and mutters, “Make it stop.”

I might be able to pride myself on keeping a clear head in any situation, but this shit is really pushing it. The sad part here is that even if I did stop Murkoff with all this footage, there’s probably nothing I can do for Elijah personally. No, there is nothing I can do for him. I can’t help him. I can’t fix whatever damage they’ve done. And for some stupid reason, that thought hurts more than it should. When I shake my head, my jaw brushes against his temple.

“Can you do something?” His voice is soft and patient. I raise my free hand to the rough skin of his bicep. “Close your eyes, best friend? For me?”

I don’t know why, why I even consider granting his request, but I do. I close my eyes within seconds, trusting him and the air of camaraderie that has built up between us.

Big fuckin’ mistake.

“I need to help you.” His voice takes on a slight quiver, his face lifting away from my shoulder. “Please, let me get it out for you... We both know it’s there. It’s driving you crazy, so let me get it out..!”

My eyes fly open in panic, and the first thing I see is his face contorted in grief and desperation, his arm reared back. Without warning, he immediately tries to jam his fingers straight into my fucking eyeball.

Thank God my own skittishness manages to save my ass. I’m jumpy enough from being in this place for as long as I have and follow my first instinct when I see a raised arm, which is to duck. Grunting, I throw my body to the floor and scramble by him towards the bed below the open vent.

I’m in full-on survival mode now. My mind is no longer thinking, because my body is doing that for it. Something incoherent is yelled at me, and the bottom of my jeans are snagged with a hard yank. I almost drop my camera and slam my face onto the bloody floor, but manage to rip my leg away, get to my feet, and run.

“I’m trying to help you!” he calls after me, his ever friendly tone beckoning like he really believes that’s what he was doing back there.

I pull myself up into the vent, not stopping to look back.

Give me the statistics on this. On average, how many friendships are ruined because one person tried to tear out the others’ eyeballs?

When I land in an adjacent room with another patient who starts screaming his lungs out, two men bang on the double doors to my right, trying to smash them down, and I can’t think anymore. My heart races as I rush to escape through the only other door in the room, and, in the middle of all the screaming, I hear one cry clearly above the others.

“Miles! Please! Miles!!!”

 


 

Here is my confession.

I’ve never hated anyone more in my life. Than the ugly son of a bitch who has me strapped to this wheelchair. Who’s shown me an open exit, was a big enough dick to tease me about it, and then force me into a bloodstained room with a tray of blades and scalpels with my own camcorder pointed at me like I’m the hottest new star of a snuff film.

He’s smiling at me now with this shit-eating grin, and I’m damn near foaming at the mouth.

“You know,” the jackass lilts in that condescending tone of his, “I’m a bit worried of how much time you’ve been spending with Father Martin... I hope you haven’t been letting him confuse you with all his holier-than-thou-”

“Fuck. You.”

“Oh, ho, ho. The mouth on this one!” He turns his back to me to wash his hands in the dirty sink that my camcorder’s sitting on. I stare at it in favor of looking at his bare ass. “You know, if I were you, I’d use that tongue a bit more wisely. I hate to spoil the ending here, but you’re not gonna have that for too much longer, buddy.”

Right. Fingers first, then balls, then tongue. Right, right, right.

“I really like this thing,” my captor says, picking up my camera again. He fiddles with the night vision, holding it up to film my glaring face. Just what I needed. Insane paparazzi. “Woo, boy, high tech shit here. Great investment! Remind me to post the video on the internet when we’re done. If people pay big money for horror movies, this thing is gonna sell itself.”

My desperate efforts in pulling at my restraints only seem to make them tighten more, like the whole world, including the goddamn inanimate objects, are working against me tooth and nail. I’ll be honest; I’d give anything in the world to have someone by my side right now, someone who could possibly help me out of this mess, but I left that only someone blind and alone at the mercy of whoever was chasing me before I climbed into the dumbwaiter.

As I was when I pulled up to the asylum and decided to go through with this stupid job, I’m back to being completely and helplessly alone.

The “doctor” in front of me smiles wide like he knows that.

Chapter Text

He took my fingers... He took my fuckin' fingers.

The psycho actually did it. Bitch-slapped me like street hooker who gave too much lip, and then strolled right out the door, leaving me here to bleed.

This has got to be the most pain I've felt in my whole life; it's got to be... I can't think, and I'm close to screaming my lungs out. The extra adrenaline coursing through me from the pain is just enough to finally help me break free of the restraints keeping me on this joyride.

I vomit up the remnants of the cheap burger I bought on the drive over here, wipe my mouth, grab my camera, and bolt towards the door.

The fuck is already in the doorway by the time I'm done collecting myself. He's waiting for me there, holding what looks like a huge scalpel in one hand and a bloody rag in the other. I have enough time to flinch out of my skin, gasp, and stumble backwards against the filthy sinks, almost slipping on my own puke.

"Crafty, aren't ya?" he grins, stalking forward, nice and slow because he knows I'm not only a trapped rat, but an injured one. "I never like it when my patients try to escape, you know. They think they're making it easy, but, really, they're just pissing on the easy way. Hard way it is then, buddy."

"Stay the fuck away from me..."

"No, no, you need me, pal." He waves the scalpel like we're in a lecture hall. "You see, buddy, you're lost right now. I know, I know! You're thinking to yourself, 'But, Dr. Trager, how could I possibly be lost?'"

I don't bother responding. I focus on carting him around the wheelchair, staying close enough for him to feel like he's caught me, but far enough away that he can't reach me, waiting for an opening to make a run for it. He seems content to stalk me around it, staying perfectly composed.

"You're lost because you don't get it, bud. We're rollin' in dough here. We're making magic!"

I don't give a fuck what he's talking about. I just keep circling, glancing to the door.

"This whole place is fulla suckers. Don't even realize they're sitting on a mountain of gold. That's just how deals go; I know this kinda shit, been doing it for years, just, uh, without all the blood. Somebody always gets the bigger cut of the profit, and the other guy, the little guy, gets the... well. The knife."

Our ring-around-the-rosy won't last much longer. Impatience starts to shine through all the ugly on his face.

"Haven't figured it out by now, buddy? Here's a hint if you're a slow learner." He stops to grin, dripping with pure malice. "I'm the one with the profit here."

He shoves the wheelchair and lunges, either trying to stab me or just capture me, I can't tell. I'd like to meet the idiot whose first instinct is to stick around and figure out if the psychopath lunging their way is trying to murder them or just go in for a nice constraining hug. My own blood on the ground almost fucks me sideways, but I make it to the doorway, tear around the corner, and start running, fast and blind.

"Fuck! Fuck! Really? You're gonna walk on me?!"

Both my injured hands are shaking. As soon as I run into a big room with beds scattered all over, I drop my camera like a goddamn idiot, then pause for a second, hesitating as my brain catches up to my clumsy body and processes the fact that, yes, you fuckin' moron, you DID just drop the only thing you can count on to keep you alive.

My chin slams hard against the floor as I'm tackled from behind. Through the complete jarringness of it, my right side blossoms into sharp pain. I think... I've been stabbed.

"I should have cut your feet first! Amateur move... Lucky for me, you're the bigger fuck-up between us!"

I flail and kick and struggle, but my only reward is that sharp pain doubling in agony.

"Please," I huff out between gasping breathes. "Ah..! Please, please."

I can't even force my body to go still so the asshole doesn't twist the blade again. I can't even focus. I'm in so much pain, I've been stabbed, my fingers are missing-

I think to myself, well, you are going to die now, Miles. This is it. This pain, this wild panic. This is what dying feels like... This is what it feels like to be murdered. I shut my eyes tight against the feeling and lament that my final thoughts are wasted on the musing of death itself instead anything more meaningful.

Suddenly, all around me it seems, there's a shift in weight. There's shuffling. There's the desperate huffing and gasps of humans struggling like scrapyard dogs. The pain in my side is the only thing that doesn't change. When I roll onto my back and squint, in shock that I'm still alive, I'm met with the sight of a tall, muscular man being assaulted by the fuck who cut my fingers off.

The doctor, Trager, I remember, the Trager from those twisted notes, has dropped his scalpel - or maybe it's still buried in my gut - and is clutching the stranger's head, trying to slam it against the nearest wall. The man is a pretty big dude, though, much stronger than Trager, and is... wearing a dirty brown jacket. It's...

"Come on!" Trager yells, smashing Elijah's forehead against the wall. "Stay! Away! From my patient!"

Elijah's blood is smeared on the wall; he's at a clear disadvantage here, not being able to grab back. His disfigured arms, whatever they did to him in this sick place, are keeping him from fighting for his life.

For all his lack of fine motor skills, though, he's a smart guy. I wouldn't hang around him so much if he wasn't. And, like a smart guy, he improvises.

I lay on the floor and watch as he shoves Trager against the wall, bites the side of his neck, and pulls away with a mouthful of his flesh and blood.

My body convulses like it wants to vomit again, but stops when it jostles the scalpel embedded in my side. Elijah doesn't stop biting and tearing parts of the doctor's neck and face away, not even after his struggling body has gone limp against the wall. Blood spurts from the wound on his neck like a geyser, pulsing out in waves with the beating of his dying heart, and I force myself to watch it all.

Elijah has torn away a part of his cheek, a large portion of his neck, and a patch off his jaw before he lets the body slump to the ground and turns to me, panting hard. His lips are coated in blood, and, when he clears his throat and spits, a piece of flesh is spit out as well.

"Please," I breathe again, reeling from shock.

He drops to his knees immediately, his bare legs in the doctor's blood, his tumorous hand groping my way. A tortured patient cries out and moans from somewhere down the hallway to our left.

"You're hurt," is all he states, quiet, searching up my body to find the wound. He gropes up over my thighs and crotch before I shudder and flinch for his arm, guiding his mangled hand to the wound.

His brow scrunches, visibly upset, but I just squeeze his wrist as tight as I can, using it like a stress ball until I get the courage to yank out the scalpel, pulling its almost two inch blade out of my body. Blood blossoms and spreads along my white shirt as soon as the thing is out. I scramble to hold my side, no matter how much it hurts to do so, and oh god does it hurt, just to get some pressure on the wound and stop the blood flow.

It's impossible to tell if it nicked any internal organs or not, but that's just another worry to add to the current panic list, right under bullet point #1: the fact that that scalpel was rusty and already had someone else's dried blood on it long before it was jammed into my flesh.

"Fuck Trager," I huff out as a strange lull settles over the room. Compared to the clusterfuck that just went down, it's like the entire asylum takes a deep breath and holds it. My own calm voice sounds crazy to me. "What a jackass."

It's ridiculous for a man who just got his fingers chopped off, got stabbed, and then watched another man kill someone with his teeth to say shit like that about the situation. I picture the guy from that old book, The Metamorphosis; guy gets turned into a fuckin' monster, and the first thing he's worried about is being late to his shitty job. Yeah, I know it's crazy, I'll admit. Most people would be crying or screaming or going into full-body shock right about now, but I'm not most people, I guess. Maybe it's how cynical I am, or how much of a jackass I am myself, but all I can think about everything that just went down is, really, Trager was such a jackass.

"I got your present dirty," Eli mumbles, looking down to my bloody jacket and sounding disappointed in himself.

Hey, looks like we're both not reacting normally to this fucked-up situation. Looks like we're both insane then. Metamorphosis times two.

"S'fine." I'm still gripping Eli's arm with the fingers I have left. I use it as leverage to help me sit up as I put more pressure on my side. "Ow, fuck... Bastard woulda killed me..."

"You're mine," Elijah murmurs, soft and low. Blood accents his smile. "My silky. I'm so happy to have you back..."

Ah, yes, that's right. Delusional beliefs. A total inability to understand normal, functioning relationships. A violently possessive attitude towards his current choice of interest. Right, I'm beginning to remember why I sprinted away from this guy like my life depended on it.

Still, he found me and saved me... I really would have died without him. This one patient has found his way back to me so often that I'm tempted to admit there really is such a thing as fate. This one man, Elijah, seems tied to me in the same way the big fucker Chris seems tied to me, but the difference is that I'd rather fall ass-first into Eli's lap than Chris' any minute of any day of the week.

"Shit," I mutter, more to what's left of my sanity and the right side of my stomach than to Eli, but he leans forward at my voice, his arm shifting beneath my hand.

"Does it hurt?" He motions like he wants wrap me up in his arms but stops at my gasp of pain when he loosens the tight press I have on my stab wound.

"Ow... how the hell did you find me?" I ignore his question. It's obvious that it fucking hurts. Maybe obvious to anyone but him.

"I followed to say sorry, best friend." Now he does pull me close and cradle me in his arms, but I don't try to resist. My cheeks burn from how pathetically I slump into the solid weight of his body. The blood on his jacket smears onto my shirt, but it's all gone to shit anyway, so who really cares about that right now. "I didn't mean to scare you. Please say you'll forgive me, silky..."

If someone told me that, when I first met Elijah, he was capable of murdering someone without batting an eye, I would have told them that they didn't know their ass from their elbow. Elijah never seemed like any of the other countless assholes in here who take up a security baton and immediately try to play jump-rope with the intestines of the first person they see. No, he was more like those shivering bodies huddled under beds, balled up in corners and muttering about the Walrider or Wernicke or the sins at the root of Murkoff.

If anything, Elijah seemed like the most docile patient I'd met so far. I've pushed him and yelled at him and insulted the guy right to his face, and the most he'd done is either whimper and apologize or stare blankly back.

"God, you're so fucked..." I whisper without thinking.

He tightens his hold on me, his grip much stronger than any sane person would impose on a recently-injured man. His stump of an arm rubs my bicep, then trails along my collarbone to rest near my jaw. I shiver, but don't pull away.

"I missed you, silky. I thought I lost my best friend..."

"I'm bleeding, Elijah." Warm blood is covering my entire right hand, some from my missing finger and some from the wound I'm desperately squeezing. "I need you to help me get out of this hellhole or I'm going to die."

He breathes shallowly into my hair for a while, nuzzling the top of my head, and then sighs.

"I know, silky... You want to go home, I know. I wouldn't leave you here. I love you too much."

"Oh, great," I mutter, pushing away from his painful embrace. Yeah. That's just great. Add that little tidbit to the panic list.

"The nurses are all gone, though. Doctors, too. They're who I always went to when I hurt myself. Not when I got hurt by the Engine, though... Or when I hurt others. Then I just went to my cell."

"Whoever let you outta that obviously made a mistake..." I push myself to my feet, bitter and scalding. Who gives a fuck. I'm missing fingers, I've been stabbed, and I want out.

"Miles."

I freeze.

Elijah stands and reaches out in that soft, seeking way that only blind people can, not to feel me, but just to know my location. His index finger trails down until it hooks the top of my jeans.

"I'll help you get home," he says. "I promise."

I turn away from his bloody face, shifting on my feet. My stab wound is already pulsing with pain, but literally any other movement makes it ten times worse, like icing on the shit-flavored cake. And my hands are on fire.

"Right, right. Because you love me so much..."

"It's in my pocket," he breathes, ignoring my sarcastic douchebaggery. At this point, I don't blame the guy. If there's anyone I'd rather die than be stuck with in a life or death situation, it's my own fuckin' self.

"Huh...? The hell did you say?"

I close my eyes and give my head a quick shake when something black and misty flutters at the corner of my vision. I might pass out if I'm not careful. That's what that was. ...Right?

"I have a present for you, my silky." I'm given a bloody and loving smile. "It's in my pocket!"

Guy doesn't have an extra hand to take it out himself, so I reach over and dig into the jacket pocket, as carefully as I can with my amputated finger. There's something small, cold, and hard inside, and, when I pull it out, I see that it's a key.

I hold it up and stare at him in dumb disbelief.

"No... You..."

"It's the key to the elevator, I think." He's speaking so calmly, like he didn't just single-handedly score our one ticket out of this place. "We can go up to the entrance..."

When I start laughing in hysterical joy, it hurts my stab wound so much that tears run down my cheeks, but I still don't stop. I just laugh until I'm light-headed, and Eli holds me close, and black mistiness curls again around the edges of my vision, even when I shut my eyes.

Chapter Text

The elevator ride up drags its feet more than when I was strapped into the wheelchair with Trager. Maybe it's the anticipation of finally getting out of here, or the distracting pain shooting through me, or not having the joy of being graced with that dick's wrinkly bare ass displayed right in my face, but the ride up to that open entrance, just a few floors up, seems like it takes forever.

I spend the time leaning on the wall, my recovered camera tucked under my arm, and watching Eli, who trails his fingers over the elevator buttons, tracing their shape over and over.

The red pressure marks from his bindings have faded, kinda, but not really. All in all, he doesn't look as goddamn ugly as he did when I first peeled them off. It's impossible to tell how long the staff here had him tied up like that, but it must have been long, for sure. Trager's blood still stains his lower face and has dried; trails where dripped down his chin to his neck are flaking off. The front collar of his jacket - my jacket - is stained red from it.

His chest rises and falls slowly, relaxed and almost at peace. He doesn't even flinch when I push away from the wall to stand closer and press my remaining - really, fuck Trager - index finger to his jaw, scrapping some dried blood away with my short fingernail. Funny that the finger I'm trying to clean away blood with is coated in blood itself.

He angles his head away, exposing his neck to me, and I don't know why, but something about it makes me a little sentimental. I don't know. Call me crazy.

I lick my thumb, the cleanest of all my disgusting fingers - the fingers I have left that is, yes, FUCK Trager - and try to wipe the blood off Eli's neck and jaw. Doesn't do much; mostly just smears it. Mostly transfers the blood from him to my own finger, but I keep it up anyway. Guy seems to appreciate it well enough because his shoulders slump, and he sighs deeply. Must feel nice after being subjected to so much pain and torture to get something that resembles a massage, no matter how shitty it is. Or maybe he's just been so starved for human contact that the single finger I'm touching him with feels like heaven.

"We're gonna be okay," I murmur, rubbing a spot on his jaw methodically. He turns his face slightly towards me at the sound of my voice.

The ding of the elevator breaks me out of whatever weird trance I fell into, my hand darting away from his face, but Elijah just moves forward, as casually as ever, stepping out onto the floor. I follow him, my eyes searching for the open.... Wait.. Wait.

Wasn't there... I could have sworn that this was the floor.. There's an exit sign under the doors opposite the elevator, but... The doors there are closed. I could have sworn that THESE were the doors that asshole Trager showed me!

I push past Elijah and run to them, my hands shaking as I grab the handle, turn, and push.

NO...

It's not that they're locked, just that... something's blocking them from the other side. Somebody's blocked them from the outside with something.

"Fuck... Come on!"

I slam the weight of my entire body against those fuckers, but it's not enough. Of course it's not enough. Of course! I'm the stupid one here, I'm the idiot foolish enough to think that this cesspool would do anything to help me out ever. That anything could EVER go my way...

Okay. Ha ha. It's funny. Okay, world, you got me. Now quit it. Prank's over, let's get serious now.

I push on the door again. No in fuckin' hell is it opening unless it's unblocked from the other side.

"No, no, no, no," I mutter, backing away.

A patient must have done this, or a group of them, running from something, or someone, and blocking the door in a panic, but who and running from what, from Trager?! From Chris fuckface Walker?! From the ghost bitch himself?! Fuck, man. FUCK!

"This was it..! This was suppose to be it!"

I curl my fucked up hand into a fist and punch the door hard, and my severed finger slams against the thick wood, but, ya know, I really don't give a fuck about that right now. That pain that erupts in my hand and radiates up my arm, yeah, I'll take it. I'll take it with a side of fries and a milkshake the flavor of FUCK YOU.

I take that pain and bite my lip until it bleeds, because this was suppose to be it, dammit! I can almost hear Trager's ghost laughing his guts out at me from beyond the grave. Nose to the grindstone...

"Miles..."

I barely hear Elijah's tiny voice over my own panicked breathing. OH, what now, you stupid-ass nutjob?!

"God, what the fuck do you want?!" I shout, spinning to face him.

Without a word, he rests his arms on my shoulders, ducks down, and presses his lips to mine.

It only lasts a second. He misses; lands somewhere near the corner of my mouth instead. I'm still the whole time. My eyes stay wide open. I feel Trager's dried blood cracking between us.

When he pulls away, I wipe my mouth with the back of my hand, my heart racing. I can hear it in my ears. He doesn't say anything. I run my eyes over the hallway we're standing in and frantically try to... Just... Jesus.

I open my mouth, utterly flustered.

"We'll be okay," he says softly. He tilts his eyeless face towards me and smiles. It's more unnerving than anything. "Right?"

I take a moment to swallow hard as my stomach drops.

"Right?" he presses.

"Right," I whisper. My voice cracks around the word. Something inside my chest aches.

He nods to himself, satisfied, turning away from me to wander back down the hallway towards the elevator. I lean against the barred doors and struggle to get a firm grasp on reality again.

"It made me feel nice when you said that," he mentions, keeping a hand against the wall to guide him down the hallway. "Old homes aren't good... When Mom went away, I got a new home with doctors in it. And then another one, and another after that. It's time to go away from this one, too, huh?"

"Right," I whisper again, leaning my head back to stare at the ceiling.

I know what the feeling flooding my chest is, this dull, painful ache.

It's pity.

It's disturbing and damn near the saddest thing in the world, because this 30-something year old man might genuinely believe he loves something about me, that I am the one and only person he is closest to, which I might well be in this pit of hell, but every ounce of those feelings, however real they are, are purely because of his own psychosis. Dude barely has a grasp on reality anymore, if at all.

This man could have had a better life. He could have made progress with his own mental condition. He could have gotten better help at a real institute with real therapists who would care about him. Instead, he's only gotten hurt and fallen deeper and deeper into his delusions, and the dream therapy made those delusions even worse. Like most of the patients here, he's so far gone, it's hard for him to even tell what's real and what's not. Murkoff has twisted his mind that much with their sick experiments.

He could have had... Something. Anything but this.

Still, I didn't not see that shit comin' from a mile away. I didn't know that he... I mean, it just seems like he wouldn't... Actually, no, I should have seen that coming. I should have predicted this from back in the damn prison block where I found the guy. I took off his straitjacket, and his first act of freedom was to back me against a bed frame and try to smell me.

Something about that felt different than how it felt now, though. This didn't feel like he was just trying to satisfy some unsettling curiosity. This felt like he actually... God, why am I even still thinking about it?! The guy's crazy. Crazy people do crazy things. End of story.

I turn away, looking out the windows on the blocked doors. It's still raining outside, like the whole world is coming to an end. Inside this asylum, it certainly feels like it is. Being in here... It's like being asleep. Like nothing that happens in here is even real, and one moment I'll wake up and think, holy shit, I sure am one disturbed son of a bitch to dream about something like that.

I won't wake up, though. That's what the real nightmare is.

There's a sickness in here. Not just the patients, or the doctors. Everything that's happened here is just sick. The Murkoff Corporation, the German Nazi shit, the abuse of mentally illness patients. The spreading corruption all for the gain of research and power. What did I even come here for..?

Something black outside the window shifts under the falling rain, like a miniature storm cloud that's fallen far too close to earth. An inky cloud that should be up there close to heaven, but is stuck down on earth against its will. I swear it takes on the shape of a man before being washed away by the rain.

"Where?" I find myself asking, almost subconsciously. "Where did all the dream therapy happen?"

Elijah stops drifting and slowly makes his way back to me. The man looks like a fuckin' massacre survivor, to be frank. Trager's blood is on his legs, his jacket, and his mouth, and his own blood has dried over the wound on his forehead from when Trager stupidly tried to beat a man twice his size and half his age to death against a slab of drywall.

"I don't know... Everywhere..."

"Yes, you do know," I push. Hell, I don't really know if I want to go there, honestly. Maybe we just have nowhere else to go. "Tell me, Elijah."

He tenses up, shaking and drawing his arms up to his chest. They hold my jacket like a safety blanket.

"I don't wanna. It hurt there... I don't like it there!" When he lifts his panicked face, for a second, I believe that he can actually see me.

"Fine. We won't try to go to there then," I lie. Right to his face. I justify it by looking away from his stitched-up eyelids, then feel like a fool for believing that would change anything. "Let's just focus on finding an open exit. With the elevator key, at least we can go to any floor now. Unless more dickheads are boarding up the place."

He nods absentmindedly, turning away without another word, like he's either lost in his thoughts and memories, or he knows I lied about seeking out the dream therapy room and has lost all trust he had for me in the first place.

"Come here, silky," he breathes over his shoulder, reaching out to trace along the wall again. "I remember this place... There's something this way."

Sure. The blind leading the blind. What could possibly go wrong with that?

 


 

"Project Walrider Patient Status Report for Elijah Davol

Case Number: 127
Patient Initials: EJD, "Elijah"
Consultation Dated: 2013.01.11
Initial Date of Patient Consult: 2010.12.31
Patient Age: 31
Gender: Male
Observing Physician: Dr. Carl Houston

Therapy Status:
Average to above average control of lucid dream state. Patient claims to experience periods of high control, yet no consistent evidence to prove this. Morphogenic Engine activity plateaus at 1000 ppm. Continue stage 3 hormone schedule.

Diagnostics:
Spirometry revealed light bronchial accumulation. MRI scans inconsistent with patient's reported dreams. Arrhythmic REM/NREM cycle.

Interview Notes:
Elijah once again requested his straitjacket be removed so he could 'share his secret with me'. (Note: secret in question corresponds to his previously reported belief that removal of ones eyes is the only true way to alleviate the itch. (Note: the itch in question corresponds to his previously reported belief that eyesight is the cause of all mental insanity in the world.)) Request for straitjacket removal was denied.

He continues to remain unresponsive about his estranged father and shuts down when any mention of him is brought up. When questioned about his childhood, he smiled and shook his head. When questioned about his remaining sister, he giggled fondly. Questions about his deceased mother were met with total apathy. All questions about his recent self-mutilation were answered with references to either the 'secret' or the 'itch'.

He has expressed a strong desire to visit Billy, claiming they are 'best friends'. Patient Billy on record, William Hope, has only briefly been in contact with Elijah during a cell transfer dated 2012.10.14. The two did not speak to one another. Any further requests should be ignored.

Reported dreams remain highly inconsistent with MRI scans. Elijah claims to have lucid dreams of the future, wherein he is able to see and control the flow of fate itself. No such lucid dreams recorded nor observed in MRI scans. He also continues to claim that, after 'scratching his itch', he is able to see things in the world beyond the limit of eyesight. Refer to patients 14306-8, 14279-1, and 14868-1. Connection to Elijah's reported state is highly possible. If so, appropriate transfer must be made.

Surprisingly, Elijah has made progress in physical aggression towards orderlies and staff. When his mouth restraints were removed for this interview, he did not attempt to bite anyone nor expressed any desire to throughout the entire consultation. However, due to continued obsession with the 'secret' and the 'itch', all restraints, including mouth, should remain until further notice. If obsession heightens, proceed with shock therapy."

I lift my camera to record the document, then set it back down beside the overturned table I found it on. It hurts to bend over, makes the wound in my side burst into agony. Somewhere above us in the asylum, a man screams bloody murder before his cry is abruptly cut off.

"What's wrong?" Elijah asks from beside me. He's chewing hard on his bottom lip, licking at the blood on it, his face angled to the floor. "Best friend?"

I almost bring my camera up to film him, but don't, letting my arm fall back to my side as I stare down at the old status report.

"It's... nothing important."