The classroom was alive, all the voices blending together into a soft hum. The work was pretty tedious, but I’d get out in twenty minutes. I thought for a moment, then remembered I had lunch next. Plenty of time to hang out with everyone. I smiled, and returned to scratching on my paper. Some of the voices started getting louder, clearer, and with an odd sound to them, a sound and tone that was hard to place, hard to describe.
“…want to look at her…”
“…keep her isolated… dangerous…”
“…want to go in… see up close…” I shook my head, and looked around the classroom. Everyone was just goofing off, sitting on tables, and laughing. The voices didn’t seem to belong to anyone here. I shrugged. People talking outside, probably.
“…too dangerous… violent… unpredictable…”
“…need to go in… want to see her… haven’t for years…” I turned and stared at the door. The voices were getting annoying. The teacher seemed to hear them too, and walked off to the door. I smiled and focused again.
“…I’ll go… wait…” As the voice spoke again, my paper flickered. I blinked and rubbed my eyes. Nothing happened.
“Izzy.” I looked up, and smiled. My friend had occupied the empty seat next to me. She was smiling, but there seemed to be some worry in her face.
“Emma!” I said, stretching out my hand. “Where were you?”
“Busy.” She replied, and looked back over her shoulder. “How are you feeling?”
“Bored. It’s maths, what do you think?”
“Maths, right, right.” Suddenly, her mouth stretched wide, twisting upwards into a grin. Razor teeth lined her mouth, and her eyes started to burn with a hellfire. I screamed and jumped back. When I blinked, everything was normal again. Emma looked worried.
“What was that?” She asked.
“Nothing, nothing, just stressed, I guess.” I laughed nervously, and retook my seat, dragging it ever so slightly away.
“Hey, can you help me with this?” Someone asked me, pointing at their work.
“Sure!” I said. “Sorry, Emma, I’ll be a second.”
“Izzy.” Emma said softly, but firmly. “There’s no one there.” I turned and looked at her, raising my eyebrows. Her face was stern. No hint of joking. I smiled uneasily.
“Um… she’s there. What are you talking about?”
“No talking!” The teacher barked. “Get back to work!” Everyone shut up, and sat down.
“Izzy, will you talk to me?”
“Shh!” I hissed. “He said no talking. Do you want us to get into trouble?”
“The teacher! Who else?”
“We’re alone, Izzy.” I turned to her again. Once again, burning eyes, huge, grinning face, right in my own.
“You’re going to die.”
“No!” I yelled, and tried to jump back again. I staggered back clumsily, tripping over the chair and falling over, just avoiding hitting my head on the neighbouring desk. One of my other friends rushed over, helping me up. I couldn’t place his name. Emma definitely looked edgy now.
“You alright?” My friend asked.
“She… she…” I stuttered, pointing. “Demon…”
“Izzy!” Emma said, stretching her arm out. “Calm down. Calm down.” I stood up shakily.
“I saw her too.” My friend said, looking at me grimly. “We have to kill her.” I shook my head and wrung my hands.
“Nononononono.” I said, eyes flickering between Emma and my other friend. “Don’t want to kill her.”
“You have to.” He said again, stepping forward. I pushed him away, and looked again at Emma. She was certainly worried now.
“Izzy.” She said, staring at me, “Who are you talking to?” I looked back at my friend, and recognised him now, it had to be Max, it had to be.
“Max.” I replied. “He says you’re a demon, and I have to kill you. Can’t you hear him? But, you aren’t a demon, are you?”
“What? No, listen to me,” Emma said, voice quivering, “Izzy, there isn’t a Max. We’re alone.” I shook my head, and grabbed Max’s arm, and pulled it toward her.
“No, you’re wrong. You’re wrong! See, see, I have him! He’s there, I’m holding his arm! He must be real!”
“You aren’t holding anyone, or anything. We’re just in a room together, alone.” I looked around. Everyone was still in their seats, working, the teacher sitting silently. When I looked back, the demonic face was in my own again. Smoke wisped lazily from the gaping mouth, eyes burning into mine.
“You’re dying. Nothing will save you.”
I staggered back again, but when I blinked, the demon was gone. Max was gone too, but Emma was still there. She stood up, and walked towards me slowly.
“Just calm down.”
“We’re not alone!” I said, looking around wide-eyed. “Everyone’s here! Not alone, not alone, I’m never alone!” As I looked back at Emma, her form blurred. Something there, white coat, dark background… I snapped back, and everything was normal again. There were footsteps behind me. I looked back, and smiled. Another familiar face, Erin. She could help talk some sense into Emma. She had to. I was getting worried now.
“Hey, Erin!” I said, running towards her. “I don’t know what’s happening, Emma’s gone weird, and no one even seems to notice! Can you help me talk to her?”
“Who doesn’t notice?” She asked. I gestured around the room.
“All of them, of course! Even the teacher,” I said, pointing, “even he doesn’t seem to notice. At least you do.” Erin took my arm, and turned me to face her.
“Izzy.” She said softly and sternly, “You’re pointing at a wall. There’s no one else here.” I pulled away, and shook my head.
“Nononononononono.” I babbled, stepping back. “I’m not alone, I’m never alone. Never, never, never, never.” Emma had stepped around in front of me, and turned to Erin.
“I think she’s gotten worse.” She said. “She’s deteriorated a lot over the past week.”
“Mmm.” Erin replied. “She still hears us, so she’s not gone quite yet.”
“What are you talking about?” I whimpered. “I don’t understand!” Erin stepped forward and laid her hand on my arm.
“Izzy, this is all in your mind. You’ve been like this for three and a half years. There is no Alfred Deakin.” My eye twitched, and I slammed my hands into her, shoving her back.
“No!” I yelled. “No, no, no, no! You’re wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong!”
“Izzy!” Emma yelled, stepping forward, “You have to calm down! Take a breath, deep breaths.” I stepped back, into a desk. I flinched instinctively as I hit it, but I felt nothing. I put my hand down, where the desk should be. But there was nothing.
“I… don’t… understand…” I stammered, and looked back up. Emma had her hand on my shoulder, smiling softly.
“Just calm down. None of this is real. We’re in a room, just the three of us. Alright?”
“NO!” I yelled, grabbing her by the collar and pulling her up. “You’re lying, lying, lying! Max was right! You are a demon. A demon who needs to DIE!” She’d grabbed my hands, and started to choke, when Erin slammed into me. I landed on the ground with a thud, and staggered up to my feet.
“You too.” I said icily. “You’re lying, lying, lying, lying.”
“Emma, get the tranqs.” Erin muttered, staring at me. “Izzy, listen to me. We aren’t demons. We just want to help you.”
“Don’t lie to me!” As I stared back, her form started to quiver. Something else was there, two shapes in the same place. I blinked, and rubbed my eyes, but it was only getting more indistinct. I looked around. The classroom, the teacher, the students, everything was fading away. As I looked back at Erin, I no longer saw a student my age. She wore a knee length white coat, and was holding a clipboard. The walls were no longer bright and covered in posters and graffiti. Instead, they were grey, cold, and padded. Everything was dark. Lonely. Oppressive. I started shaking, and dropped to my knees.
“The school… it’s gone… where…” I murmured, eyes flickering around the barren room.
“It was never real.” Erin said, stepping forward. I turned to her, as anger started to burn inside me.
“You! You did this! All your fault, all your fault!” I stood up, and took a step, clenching my hands into fists. Erin started to back off.
“Calm down, Izzy, don’t act irrationally. I just want to help.”
“YOU DID THIS!” With that, I lunged forward, clutching her throat. She fell over, and I landed on top, pressing my face into hers. She started choking, and I began to shake her head, while screaming.
“What did you do? What did you do? Give it back! GIVE IT BACK TO ME, YOU BITCH!” Someone tackled me, and I landed face down into the floor. It didn’t feel like wood anymore. It felt soft, and smelled of mold and sweat. As I struggled, something sharp slipped into my arm. I wrestled free and rolled over, staring at my assailant. It was Emma, she’d also changed from my friend into a foe.
“I gave her a dose.” She said, keeping her eyes on me. “Should be soon.” I got up, and stalked forward, ready to charge again. But as I moved, my legs started to feel like they were filling with lead. I shook my head, but it only started getting worse, they were getting heavier and heavier. My head started thumping, and I began to moan.
“What did you do to me?” I groaned. My knees began to shake, and then they buckled under me without warning. I felt pressure on my arms, and something began to drag me backwards.
“I forgot how fast they work.” The voice was dim, and I couldn’t tell who it belonged to.
“They have to be. She could’ve hurt us pretty badly.”
“Let me go…” I murmured. I started to struggle, but I was tired, so tired. My arms felt just as heavy as my legs. As my eyelids started to droop, I decided to close them. Just for a second. Then I could stop them.
The scientists had reached the bed, and easily lifted Izzy up onto it. She was little more than skin and bone, skin pale and waxy, hair dark and dishevelled. The bed was one of the few pieces of furniture in the room, along with a couple of chairs and a table.
“She’ll be out for a few hours.” Emma said. “We need to get an IV into her. She barely eats anymore.”
“I’ll request one.” Erin replied. “Should we put her on a new course of drugs?”
“Nothing’s been working so far, has it? We should probably take her off her current ones. They don’t seem to help, if anything, the opposite.”
“Mmm. She has been worse. I’ll make a note of it.”
“The parents are outside.”
“We’ll have to talk to them.”
“We both can.” The pair walked along the padded floor, to the reinforced door. Emma slid a keycard through the slot, waited a second, then swung the door open. Two people were standing outside, a man and a woman. The woman’s face was red, eyes puffy. The man spoke first.
“How is she?” He whispered.
“No better.” Emma replied, flipping through her notes. “In fact, probably worse. Her hallucination seems to have gotten more vivid, and she even appears to be able to feel what she sees.”
“She did have a brief bout of lucidity,” Erin continued, “but she was confused and distressed. And reacted violently. Very violently. We had to tranquilize her before she seriously hurt us.” She pointed at her neck, where long red marks were beginning to show.
“She’s become so used to her delusional world, that the real one is strange and terrifying. Even if she is able to get over her hallucinations, it’d take many years of therapy before she returns to normal.” Emma finished. Izzy’s mother responded by bursting into tears and burying her face into her husband’s chest. He looked at the scientists, and spoke again, voice cracking.
“Thank you, I know you’ve been working hard. If she improves, or…”
“We’ll call you.” Erin replied. He nodded wordlessly and walked away.
“Izzy, wake up!” I opened my eyes blearily, and saw the smiling face of Erin.
“Erin!” I murmured. “I’m not delusional, am I?” She looked confused.
“Delusional?” She laughed and poked my nose. “Feel pretty real, don’t I! C’mon, get up! It’s lunch!” Lunch. I smiled at the thought. Time with all of my friends, to hang out, to talk, and laugh.
I’m never alone anymore.
“Heart rate?” Erin asked, pencil poised at her clipboard.
“110 beats per minute.” Emma replied.
“125 mmHg.” Erin flipped through her notes and frowned.
“Her blood pressure and heart rate have been steadily increasing.” She said. “It could be the new drugs that are having a negative effect, or her hallucinations are getting more stressful…”
“Or she’s just deteriorating.” Emma finished. Erin nodded curtly, and removed the cuff from Izzy’s arm. She was fast asleep, smiling widely. Her fingers twitched occasionally.
“She’ll be coming out of it soon.” Erin murmured.
“We’ll need to remove the drip before she wakes up. She got something in her today, at least.”
“I just wish we could find out what’s wrong with her.”
“Her parents can’t afford a scan. There’s nothing we can do but keep her alive.” Erin nodded, and began to remove the drip from Izzy’s hand.
“I know. That’s what makes it worse.” Emma put her hand on Erin’s shoulder, and sighed.
“We can’t save everyone.”
“We can try.”
The dream from earlier was bothering me. I toyed with my pencil, looking at Emma and Erin now. They were back to normal, talking quietly and laughing. I bit the end of my pencil and thought back. The worst part was that it was so vivid, so real. I could almost smell the smoke that wisped from the demon’s mouth, feel the fake Emma slamming into me. I shook my head. Worrying wouldn’t change anything. The bell rang, and there was a sudden grating as everyone pulled out their chairs in a practised, fluid motion. It was time to go home. I frowned slightly. I didn’t like to be away from my friends.
“I’ll see all of you tomorrow!” I said, slinging my bag over my shoulder.
“Yeah, see you!” Erin replied, and ran towards me, arms outstretched. I caught her wrists and smiled.
“No hugs, you know that.” She pouted, broke away and joined the throng of people leaving. I turned and went the other way. The corridor walls seemed to be fainter than usual. I brushed my fingers along them. They still felt normal. As I walked, the wall seemed to flicker, turning grey and hazy. I blinked in surprise, and it returned to normal.
“That happened before.” I murmured to myself. “Before the dream.” I rubbed my eyes, and looked around the corridor. I was alone. Everything was quiet, all I could hear was my breath, and the thumping in my chest. I felt a chill run down my spine, and I hurried outside. As I stepped outside, I could hear laughing and talking again. Everyone was back. I shook my head. I had to stop feeling scared. It was just a dream.
The ride home was a nice one. I had a headwind, but it was a gentle breeze, cool and refreshing. I hummed to myself as I rode, leaves drifting slowly down to land on my arms and head. Birds flew between the gaps in branches, chirping and twittering, mixing with my humming and the turning of the wheels into a soft melody. It wasn’t long before I arrived. The house was small, made of crumbling mortar. But it was cozy inside, and it was home. I never felt tired after my rides, I always went slow and steady. I tapped my fingers on the handlebars, walking my bike into the shed to the side of the house. The air was crisp and clean, smelling of pollen. I always loved spring. I let myself into the house, and called out.
“I’m home!” There was no response. I didn’t really expect one. My parents were rarely home with me. They were busy at work. I didn’t mind. While I loved being with my friends, I needed some time alone to relax. I dumped my bag on the table, and went straight to my room. The carpet in the hall was soft and springy under my feet. I slid the door open, and kicked my shoes off as I entered. My room was pretty small too, it had little apart from a bed, wardrobe and bookshelf. The shelf was small, and close to falling apart, most of the books worn and tattered. But there was nothing I loved more than losing myself in a book, for hours and hours, reading for so long that my eyes closed of their own accord, and I drifted to sleep unknowingly. I’d already read every story from cover to cover, but if anything, that made it better. It was like meeting an old friend again. I pulled a thick, blue book from the shelf, and flopped backwards onto my bed. As I flipped the pages, I thought back to the dream. A good read would make me forget everything. After all, it was just a dream.
“She’s asleep.” Emma said, scribbling notes on her clipboard. “We should move her now.”
“Yes,” Erin agreed, “she’s been in there for a while. The room’s gotten a bit ragged, and she might benefit from a change of environment. Hopefully.”
“Hopefully?” Emma sighed. “For god’s sake, hope’s all we have left, and that’s running painfully thin, even for you. It’s been three and a half years now, and she’s only gotten worse.”
“If hope’s all we have left, then I’m just going to keep on hoping. I am not giving up on this girl, you understand?” Erin growled coldly. Emma stayed silent, and after a moment’s pause, unlocked the door, carefully opened it, peering into the room. Izzy was sprawled out on the bed, blankets strewn on the floor. She was snoring softly. Emma walked quietly along the padded floor, and gently grasped Izzy’s wrist. She didn’t react. Emma squeezed lightly, and slid a needle into one of the raised veins. There was still no response as she depressed the plunger.
“2 cc’s of general.” Emma murmured as Erin entered the room. “To make sure she stays asleep.”
“We’ll still put the jacket on. Just in case.”
“We can’t take a chance with her.”
There was light burning on my eyelids. I scrunched my eyes up and turned away slightly, but it was still there, it still hurt. After a few seconds, I opened them. The sun had risen, the harsh glare shining through my window. I opened and closed my eyes a few more times, shaking my head and yawning. I rolled my head to the side and stared at my alarm clock. 7:30. I yawned again and stared at the ceiling. I liked to lie in bed for a while. Stare and think. Then I could get up and get ready for another day of school. I smiled. Another day with my friends. My stomach rumbled. I frowned, then attempted to sit up. As I tried to get up, it felt like something was cutting into my stomach, holding me down. I tried again, harder this time. Same result.
“What the…” I tried to throw the blankets off. My arms were stuck too, my struggles did nothing. I realised my arms were in an odd position too, crossed over my chest. I tried to roll over. That got me nowhere too. I could feel my heart thumping, and a chill run down my spine. I tried to move my legs too. Still nothing. Soon I had resorted to simply thrashing everywhere, growing more and more desperate by the second.
“Someone! Help!” I screamed. I heard something behind me, something soft, slowly turning into words.
“…she is… hurry…” As I struggled, the room began to blur. The walls became hazy, flickering, the colour draining away by the second. When I looked back down, the blankets, the bed, they were gone. In their place was a metal framework over my body, attached to a trolley that I was trapped in. I wasn’t wearing my pyjamas either. Instead, I could see a white jacket, sleeves crossed over each other, with belts and buckles pulled tight around me. A scream escaped my lips unbidden. I threw my head to the side, eyes flickering around madly. I was in a narrow corridor, with dark grey metal walls. There was a squeaking of wheels, I guessed, from the trolley I was strapped to. There was a sudden screech as the trolley was brought to a stop, I turned and strained to look behind me.
“The general didn’t take. She’s gone lucid again.”
“Go get some more, Erin. I’ll try and keep her distracted.” A figure walked around into my view, and crouched down beside me. Her face looked like Emma’s, but different. Her face seemed older, and tired. But it couldn’t be Emma, she was my age, my friend. I began to struggle again, when she put her hand on my shoulder.
“Izzy,” she said softly, “you need to calm down. Just relax.” I shot a look of anger and fury at her, then spat in her face. She recoiled, sighed, and began to wipe it off.
“Get away from me!” I hissed, struggling again.
“I’m trying to help you, Izzy.”
“Just get away!” My eyes felt heavy again, I was tired again. But surely… I was just dreaming… I could feel my heart fluttering weakly in my chest, faint pressure on my shoulders. I looked up, a face, blurry, indistinct, mouthing words, but no sound came out. As everything grew fainter and fainter, I finally realised what the face was mouthing.
“Izzy! IZZY!” Erin turned the corner, cradling a needle. She looked up at Emma’s voice, then broke into a run, crouching down beside her colleague.
“What’s wrong? Something happened?” Emma was fumbling with the trolley, and shot a look over her shoulder.
“I think she’s gone into cardiac arrest. Call for assistance, I’m about to give her CPR.”
“Oh, shit. I’m on it.” Erin stood, fumbling with her jacket, and pulled out her phone. She stepped away, frantically dialing a number, as Emma finally freed Izzy from the trolley. She rolled her onto her back, and began compressing.
“Come on, come on,” Emma murmured, “don’t die on me, come on…” Izzy lay sprawled, breathing in shallow gasps, her whole body shaking. Erin crouched back down, and hissed into Erin’s ear.
“The onsite team is coming, but they’ll probably be a few minutes. What do you think?”
“Call the parents.” Emma said grimly. “Tell them I can’t promise anything.”
I opened my eyes again. The face was gone, as was the facility. I was back in school, the maths room. I looked down, I was wearing school clothes. I peered around. There was something wrong; something I couldn’t place. Then I realised. I was alone. I walked slowly across the classroom, opened the door, and stared into the corridor.
“Hello? Anyone here?” My voice wavered somewhat, and I stepped outside. Nothing. My heart was fluttering. I turned and walked, checking over my shoulder every so often. The place was eerily silent, no sound but a strange thudding, loud and rapid. It seemed to come from everywhere. I was beginning to shake.
“No,” I murmured, “don’t be stupid. It’s a dream, just a dream.”
“You’re right.” I froze. The voice. I remembered it. Soft. Icy. I turned slowly, and met the grinning face in my own. The face from the dream before. It was more vivid than I remembered, cracked, greying flesh, eyes burning like coals, smoke wisping from the hundreds of teeth. I jumped back, and screamed. The beast laughed, and took a step closer. The whole body was worse than just the face, long and slender with huge hooked claws tipping the horribly elongated fingers.
“WHAT ARE YOU?!” I yelled, tripping over myself as I tried to run away. It hissed, and planted its hands on my shoulders. It laughed slowly again, drew in closer, teeth nearly touching my nose.
“Your worst nightmare.” I struggled uselessly, as it opened its jaw lazily and drew its tongue along my face.
“What do you want?”
“I’ve been waiting a long time for this moment. You’re going to die.”
“No!” I choked. “This is a dream! I’m asleep!”
“Right again. But, can you feel your heart? Feel it beat?” It drew away for a second, and my blood ran cold. I could feel my heart before, but now there was nothing. The thudding in the background had grown faster, more frenetic. The creature laughed hollowly.
“You can’t, can you? You’re dying. Nothing will save you.”
“No…” The beast jerked back, opened its jaw, and lunged. As darkness engulfed me, the thudding grew fainter and fainter.
“CLEAR!” The medic pushed the paddles hard into Izzy’s chest. Her body stiffened as the shocks coursed through her, then relaxed as they were drawn away. The heart monitor flatlined, then began to spike.
Something faint. A noise. Noise. Sound. Life. I opened my eyes slowly. Light, light far away, the tiniest dot on the horizon. I looked back, a deep yawning abyss. My heels hung over the edge. I turned back towards the light. The sound came from there. Beeping. Voices. Thumping. Dully, I realised the thumping was my own. My heart. I took a step into the nothing. And another. Slowly, but surely, I drew closer. As I approached, a gust of warmth blew towards me, and I realised just how cold I was.There was a screech from behind. I didn’t turn. I ran. I knew it was the beast. Coming for me. One step, one step, keep running, keep running, don’t look back. Never look back. Icy claws raked along my back. I staggered, but kept moving. There was a roar, one of fury. The beeping was growing louder, and the light was shining brighter and brighter with each step.
“DON’T RUN!” It was right behind me. I could feel it. No other choice. I jumped, jumped into the light.
I opened my eyes. The light was harsh, painful, I scrunched them up almost immediately.
“Oh… my god… she’s alive!” The voice came from above, it sounded familiar.
“Calm down ma’am.” This one was familiar too, more calm and level. “She’s awake, but she’s still sick.” I turned my head, then opened my eyes again. The light was less bright now, and I could begin to make out tables and desks, and a small box on top of one. It beeped, and a wavy line ran along it. I looked back up. There were four faces above me, all I instantly recognised. I slowly raised my hand, and spoke in a cracked whisper.
“M… mum… dad…?”
“She… can see us?” The first voice spoke again, I hadn’t heard it for years, but now I remembered. My parents. I sat up, and stared at the faces. My mother’s was red, tears streaking down her cheeks, and my father’s was open, slackjawed, just like the two scientists. Emma and Erin. I smiled, as tears began to prick at my eyes.
“I missed you.” I murmured.
The nightmare’s over.
I’m alive again.