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She laid there, soaked in her own sweat.
“He… Help…” she uttered, but her voice cracked the instant her words departed her lips, left to be unheard. Right above her, a shadow was slowly appearing, hovering downwards through the ceiling, feet first.
“No… no…” she whimpered. As it was being lowered, the shadow kept twirling - exactly how she remembered from her images that were burned into her memory like a bull being marked with a branding iron.
“M… Mo… Mommy…” she cried, as her mother’s lifeless visage appeared from the darkness.
Vanessa barged in through the door.
“Mandy!? Is everything alright!?” she asked as she turned on the lights.
Mandy was laying in her bed, shaking violently with her eyes so far behind her skull that they were almost purely white. Vanessa hastily leaped to Mandy’s side, stroking through her sweaty hair.
“Hush… It’s okay…” she whispered in her ear. Vanessa could feel Mandy’s heart pound rapidly at her chest, as if it was trying to escape.
“It’s me - Vanessa. I’ll keep you safe, I promise.”
Vanessa tracked Mandy’s gaze, and now both of them were looking in the same direction towards the shadow, although, their eyes did not share the same perception. Vanessa saw nothing but a creamy-white ceiling, while Mandy on the other hand, envisioned her mother; a pale, decomposed figurine with hollowed black sockets for eyes and a jaw wide open. Her whole body was slowly rotating along with a rope, where a noose was tied around the neck with the other end connected to the ceiling. However, the head span around in the opposite direction - always maintaining eye contact with Mandy.
This kept happening on a nightly basis. Vanessa had just landed the job as a nurse at the local mental hospital, where she was assigned to the newly added patient, Mandy. Since Mandy’s case was of the critical ones, it was not an optimal solution to have a newly educated social worker nursing Mandy, but the clinic was lacking staff and desperate times called for desperate measures.
Her superior, an elderly woman named Ruth, was going to be occasionally assisting her during her starting period. This was a better solution on paper rather than in practice, since the only times Ruth saw it appropriate to assist were on their scheduled daily strolls, where Mandy was placed in a wheelchair and they would walk her around the blocks surrounding the institution.
On their walks, Ruth would often let Vanessa in on a thing or two regarding Mandy, were much of the loose talk were containing strictly classified information. Supposedly, both Mandy and her mother had been reported missing for three days before the police got involved.
When they searched their house, they found the poor girl on the floor of her mother’s bedroom, lying in a pool of her own excrement. Her mother was found only a few feet beside her, not on the floor, though, as she had taken her own life by hanging herself. The most reasonable conclusion was that Mandy there and then had fallen into a state of shock finding her own mother this way, as any normal 17 year old probably would. Mandy’s body and mind had completely collapsed, leaving her paralysed from the chest down.
Ruth proclaimed that this was the most severe case of a post traumatic stress disorder she had ever experienced in all of her years as a social worker. To paint a picture, Ruth would compare it with “falling into a coma, only to still be awake”. On very rare occasions, Mandy would show the tiniest hint of comprehending what was happening in the environment around her, but when she first did, it only came in a form of a simple word or some kind of seizure.
Vanessa couldn’t help feeling a tad of guilt growing on her conscience, when Ruth constantly ranted about Mandy’s life, despite the fact that she was present right in front of them. Nonetheless, there was one particular string of information which kept piquing Vanessa’s interest. This peculiar topic was regarding Mandy’s house, which they by happenstance had passed a couple of times during their strolls, being located not far from the hospital.
According to Ruth, the house was now abandoned - left completely untouched aside from the teenagers who kept claiming it was haunted or cursed, who also were having their fun by daring each other of entering or throwing rocks at it. What intrigued Vanessa the most, though, was every time they were near the house, Mandy’s eyes would widen and lock themselves onto it, even to the degree where she would move her whole head along as they were passing it, staring it down. Only when the house was completely out of sight, nowhere to be seen behind them, she would rest her head on her shoulder, drifting back to her “normal” self again.
One day, a patient at the suicide ward had gotten hold of a dull scissor from the textile room, which had caused a vile ruckus at the asylum. Ruth had her hands full and therefore had no other option but to send Vanessa and Mandy on their walk without her. As they departed, Vanessa knew exactly which route she wanted to take and steered the wheelchair towards the location of Mandy’s abandoned home.
Her mind reminisced the hypothesis she had concocted over the last couple of weeks, where the idea had appeared to her an evening while studying her old school notes. She remembered as she read how her whole class had participated in the process of treating a patient with arachnophobia. The male subject would frequently be exposed to a spider, introducing first only conversation about it, followed by pictures and at last the real deal. In the end, a spider would be able to crawl along the previously arachnophobic person’s arm without a trace of fear.
She was certain that reuniting Mandy with the past would be key to ease up her disorder. Vanessa had tried the past few days provoking a reaction from Mandy by carefully mentioning bits of the event she had witnessed that dreadful day, but with no luck. At this stage of the experiment, however, as they were standing directly at the front gate of the abandoned house, Mandy began whispering to herself. Despite being a bit startled at first, Vanessa quickly grew ecstatic and eagerly leaned her head closer in order to listen to what she was murmuring.
The inside of the house appeared like it had been abandoned for far longer than it actually had; wallpaper was torn, floorboards were missing and large cracks were formed in both the walls and ceiling. Shattered windows caused broken glass being scattered all over the place, and layers of thick dust covered all of the furniture, which were in such poor condition that they were far from being remotely usable.
Mandy’s cheeks and nostrils were repeatedly flaring due to her excessive breathing, and her pupils were dilated and flickering in all directions, almost like she was in search for something in the darkness. The inexperienced nurse had to remind herself that the treatment was supposed to be a step-by-step process; not by throwing her patient directly to the lions, as she could feel the whole wheelchair shaking along with Mandy, but this opportunity was too good to waste - how often would she get the chance to bring Mandy here on her own?
“No…” Mandy suddenly whimpered as she curled into a ball, her arms covering her face which again were placed close against her chest.
It was no mystery to why Mandy had reacted accordingly; right in front of them was a closed door, which by all logic led to the master bedroom. Vanessa acted cautiously and slowed down their pace, her mind still determined to reach their destination.
Mandy slowly peeked between her arms, and responded to what she intuited by slamming her head repeatedly against the headrest of the wheelchair, completely on the edge of her seat, desperately trying to do everything in her power to demonstrate her wish of not entering that particular room. As a result of the major progress they had achieved, Vanessa strived to fight the urge of pressing on. Tears filled Mandy’s eyes as she sank down in her chair in pure defeat, as it seemed like all of her mustering efforts had been in vain.
“Fine,” Vanessa sighed as she finally caved in. “You’ve been through enough for today. We will make this door your next obstacle to cross.”
She gave Mandy a gentle pat on the back and was just about to turn the wheelchair around, when something caught her eye. The door, which most certainly had been closed the whole time, was now standing slightly ajar. Once again, her curiosity got the best of her, so she pulled down the wheelchair brakes and continued towards the door by herself, leaving Mandy out in the hallway.
“Stop…” she could hear Mandy plead from behind.
The moment Vanessa reached for the handle, a draught went through the hallway and gently pushed the door open for her. Even though her mind was hesitant at first, somehow she felt her body being physically drawn into the room, as if the gust of wind that passed a second ago mysteriously dragged her along.
A welcoming presence overwhelmed Vanessa the instant she entered the bedroom. The room was lightly illuminated with sunbeams striking through the windows, making dust floating in the air glimmer. Compared to the rest of the house, it didn’t even seem like she was in the same building anymore. She had difficulties comprehending these sudden emotions - it gave a similar feeling to being… home.
With each step Vanessa took, the floorboards made a creaking sound which echoed through the rest of the utterly silent house. Even though it probably was her imagination playing her a trick, she began to feel slightly unnerved by the fact that she could swear the room appeared darker and eerier the more she closed the distance between herself and the centre of the room, making it seem like her surroundings were being engulfed by darkness. The light from the windows swiftly dissipated, which made the amount of light sources equal to non-existent.
She couldn’t shake off the feeling that there was someone lurking in the darkness, watching her every move. The intervals between her breathing were now shortened, as paranoia steadily settled in. In a matter of seconds, the illusion of the once radiant room had turned into something far more grim.
The silence was broken by a loud thud of something crashing into wood, followed by the sound of agile feet running at formidable speed. It felt like she had an enormous pill stuck in her throat as she swallowed in fear before daring to turn around. Her heart skipped a beat when she saw Mandy’s wheelchair out in the hallway; empty and knocked over on its side, with the wheel facing the ceiling slowly spinning around.
“Mandy!" Vanessa shouted. The moment she spoke, she suddenly saw something moving from the corner of her eye. On the desk to her left, a pair of old spectacles with a cracked lens reflected a tall figure steadily approaching Vanessa. This, however, was definitely not a trick; and her suspicions were confirmed the moment she once again faced the solemn room.
“M… Mandy?” her voice trembled. Mandy’s height was only one of many things that shocked Vanessa, since she had previously only seen her sitting or lying down.
Mandy was now standing up on her feet almost a head taller than Vanessa, staring her dead in the eye. Despite Mandy’s teary eyes, her expression was stone-cold, not even blinking nor showing any kind of emotions. A dozen questions raced through Vanessa’s mind, but caught in surprise, the only question she managed to barely utter contained one single word:
“How..?” She did not receive any reply. Instead, her body was lifted above the ground by Mandy’s hands, which were tightly grasped around her neck.
“I’m sorry we’ve talked about you behind your back! I’m sorry I brought you back to the house! I’m so sorry!” Vanessa wanted to plead, but she quickly realised that nothing more than guttural sounds were leaving her mouth.
Vanessa’s head felt like a brain freeze, but with heat replacing the cold, as her lungs simultaneously screamed for air. The thought of doing any kind of resistance hadn’t even occurred to her, but now, her natural instincts were telling her that this was not an act with the purpose to threaten, but rather to kill.
Her body started panicking, engaging autopilot, fighting and struggling for her own survival, but it was too late. Her bodily functions were already too weakened to do any significant harm to Mandy’s suddenly gained brute strength. Tears ran through Vanessa’s heavily pressured and swollen eyes, then continued down her cheeks, as she felt her arms and legs go limp.
The personnel at the clinic decided to contact the police and go out on a search for the two, as neither Vanessa nor Mandy had returned to their schedule. Ruth was the first person to arrive at the abandoned house, where she found Mandy, sitting outside in her wheelchair.
“Are you okay? Where is Vanessa?” Ruth asked, but as usual, Mandy seemed vacant in her mind, not showing any sign of understanding her surroundings.
Ruth then ventured inside the house. A subtle grin emerged across Mandy’s face when she heard the sound of Ruth falling down on her knees, crying out loud, as she discovered Vanessa - dangling from a rope in the ceiling.
Written by inScythe