After reading several files of the patients here, I’m starting to become a little concerned. I have this notion that there’s some sort of pattern here, but I can’t quite define it yet. I’m especially concerned about the last male patient’s claims that he is being shocked or mistreated. We do not do shock therapy here.
Shock therapy would actually be a possible treatment for severe unresponsive depression, which is exactly what he has… but we don’t do that here…
While reading through files last night, one girl’s transcript leapt out at me. I know it’s strongly part of the pattern I’m sensing, but I still can’t quite put it together…
That sound - can I have some of that?
Come on, it’s just coffee.
Give it to me!
Alright, I’ll tell you - but this better not be a trick. You promise?
Where do you want me to start?
Ok… it was class, honestly.
Yeah, class. Think it’s ridiculous that someone like me could have gone to college, [expletive]? It’s actually how I ended up like this.
My family’s not rich. Bet that doesn’t surprise you. We’re not illegals, though. Just new to the country, and not well off. I was the first one in my family to get into a good college. My older sister screwed around in high school, but I worked myself half to death. I figured, once I get in, it’s all set. I can relax.
Then I actually got there.
Everyone around me seemed so immature, so stupid. They partied all the time. They never studied, never did their homework, nothing. Half of them didn’t even show up to class. The football players, they didn’t even take the exams. I couldn’t understand it. Did they have any idea how much college cost? I still don’t know.
My parents called me about three months in. I was taking over the maximum amount of classes, because we only had enough money for three years between the family and the scholarships I’d earned. I had to graduate in three years, that was the plan.
They told me that my gran was sick. The family was going to spend the money on her healthcare. I said fine, that’s great, I love gran.
I was in denial for a little, there. I thought, maybe I’ll just get some scholarships. Maybe I can make this work. Student loans, maybe. The thought of all that debt terrified me - I would never, ever work off the amounts they were talking about. My parents always said, “We didn’t come here just to live destitute all over again.”
A month or so out from the end of that first semester, I got an email about a scholarship that was considering me. I thought all my problems were solved - it was a full ride!
But the deadline for an essay submission was the next day. No problem, I figured. I had a test and four classes with large amounts of homework, but I could do it. This was important.
So I drank some coffee, stayed up late, fell asleep about five in the morning… that next day was tired and uncomfortable, and I did a little worse on the test than I wanted, but I got it all done.
I got an email response to my submission that night. They liked my essay! I was so happy - until I read that I was just in the next pool. The next level required an in-depth analysis of an industry - thirty pages! And it was due in a few days! Had everyone else known about all this for months? Had the other candidates had all the time in the world to finish the work?
Since it was on my mind, I chose the student loan industry. That was probably a mistake - all I learned was how screwed I would be if I didn’t get this scholarship. A hundred thousand dollars or more for three or four years… and no rights, no bankruptcy, no protections… it was all worse than a loan shark deal, and, from my neighborhood, I knew how bad loan sharks could be.
I hit the coffee hard. A neighbor in the dorms gave me some pills, but I didn’t feel good about it, and left them in my backpack. I got maybe three hours of sleep a night for the next few days, struggling to get through all my classes, homework, and tests, and then also do this huge paper. I knew my classwork was suffering, but a few days wouldn’t ruin my grades. This scholarship was important…
I was at my limit when I submitted that damn thirty-page paper. Burnt out, exhausted, and fried on a week of caffeine and no sleep…
I slept terribly that night, but it was still a breeze through my pained body.
I awoke to an email congratulating me on being one of five candidates remaining in the nation. I didn’t understand - had they reviewed all the thirty-page papers overnight? Or had everyone else failed to get it done on time? Maybe that was it - maybe they only got five papers, because nobody else had the time…
They wanted a graduate-level thesis in two weeks.
I spent that entire day stunned. I couldn’t even comprehend the level of work required for this full ride scholarship… and it was getting into finals time. I think I almost broke down crying, until I realized that I did have a friend in the graduate program…
She agreed to meet with me, and helped me hash out exactly what I needed to do. She’d been working on hers for a year… she expressed some skepticism about the scholarship competition I was engaged in, but she said, “Better go for it - you don’t want to end up like me. I’ve got so many loans, I’ll never be out of debt.”
I struggled to maintain my composure in response to that. What, so if I fail to write a thesis in two weeks, I’ll end up with huge debt for the rest of my life?
The pills in my backpack started to make some sense.
They made it almost easy, actually.
I went to class, studied for finals, and worked on my thesis. I did it all.
Everything except sleep.
Between the pills and the coffee, I felt horrible, but I was awake - and working twenty-four hours a day was all that mattered. I had to get that scholarship. I had to.
I thought I could actually make the deadline… but halfway there, a week in, I could feel my body starting to give out. I hadn’t slept well in a week and a half, and hadn’t slept at all in six days… and there was still another week to go.
I went to my neighbor to ask for more pills… he was sick, sniffling, and talking to him filled me with disgust. He just seemed… gross… full of snot and spittle and his eyes were all bulgy… I took the pills and got out of there.
I started doubling the dose. Then, I tripled it.
I reached a strange plateau of pained awareness and strained energy that kept me working on everything straight through the next week. I knew that what I was doing was dangerous, but I had to do it. It would be worth it. I was going to win that scholarship… I knew it.
I hit a wall the day before it was due.
Staring at the massive thesis I’d produced, just a few pages from the end - the most critical portion, the conclusions, all escaping me - I couldn’t form the words in my head. I couldn’t think the things I needed to type out. I blinked a few times, trying to get my head straight…
I was on my laptop, in the library. I looked around in tired confusion. My dorm room, the library, and class had all become a blur as my days without sleep melded into one another.
It was night, and the library was quiet. Beyond the breathy exhaustion running under my every feeble movement, I suddenly felt uneasy.
My own fatigued breath rasped and echoed in my head. That much I’d gotten used to. But now, alone in the library in the middle of the night, I could hear something else breathing… I carefully packed up my laptop and research books, staying as quiet as I could. I saw nothing strange, but I had this hunch that I really needed to get out of there.
I took the back way around the stacks, trying not to be seen.
About four rows down, I heard a wet, organic smacking sound.
My eyes burning from the sheer effort of looking around, I froze. Was there something in the library with me? My ears found it then, as it schlepped itself down the aisle a few feet over. I peered around the corner.
A strange, fleshy mass pushed itself toward me.
Staring, terrified, I tried to figure out what it was. It had these limbs - skin all stretched and flabby - and the whole monstrous thing pulsed with this… this throbbing… it was like a disgusting, glistening sack of flesh and pulsing organs, textured sickeningly, with hair poking out in random places…
That wet, smacking sound - the mouth, an orifice into the horrific thing, bones sticking out from the gummy ridges inside - God, I remember every moment staring at that thing - and then it turned these white, moist protrusions at me - and I knew it could see me. It made a gurgling, wheezing sound, and moved toward me more quickly.
I bolted. Yeah, screw it, I’m a small girl, and I ran like hell. What would you do? There was another one in the stairwell. I almost ran straight into it. It made a weird, high-pitched noise, and then reached one throbbing limb for me. The skin seemed stretched by stringy veins, pushing something foul throughout its mass…
I ran again.
I had a knife already, you know. I’m not from a great neighborhood. It was about then that I knew I might have to use it. These horrible creatures were in the library, and I had to escape at any cost… I had to finish my thesis.
Knife held out, I ran down and for the front door. Another creature stood by the door, shambling and rasping. It squealed as it saw me, its middle expanding as it drew in breath, preparing for some sort of attack, no doubt. Through the glass doors, outside, I could see a distant campus security uniform - salvation, or at least help.
I slashed the creature across its expanding middle, tearing the spongy flesh open. It seemed to immediately release all sorts of acrid, quivering organs, red and brown and purple, and I couldn’t help but puke, tears streaming down my face. I’d never seen anything so disgusting.
Leaving the ruptured sack of flesh on the ground, I ran for the doors.
I remember that moment, screaming for help. That uniformed figure came over, approaching me quickly…
And it was one of them.
I stabbed that one, too. Sliced it up and ran for my dorm room.
I’m not sure what I was thinking. I was fully awake from the shock, that was for sure. I finished my thesis while covered in blood, and submitted it.
They came for me maybe an hour later. I can’t remember it, but apparently I was just sitting there smiling. I hadn’t even tried to sleep.
Then you know the rest. And you people tell me that I had an episode, that my ‘filters’ were fried, and that I was just seeing humans the way they really look, without familiarity or recognition… and that doesn’t make me feel better. I still see tissues, and pulsing, stringy veins, and throbbing organs in a loose sack of flesh - when I look at myself. You, you stay behind that mirror. Keep me isolated. Am I still broken? What if I never get better? Keep my family away, keep my gran away… I can’t see them like that, God… I’m so tired…
Where’s the coffee? You promised! I can hear you drinking it back there!
GIVE IT TO ME!
Going over the poor girl’s transcript, I had a vague flash of memory. This girl was a recent admission - I ran to our mailroom and checked the shredder trash. I thought I’d seen something…
And it was there.
Someone had sent her a letter, to this address. It arrived before she did. It hadn’t made any sense at the time, and I’d only randomly been the one to do the mail that day, due to a nurse’s sick day.
-gratulations, the pieces said. You’re one of three remaining candidates! To qualify for this next round, please submit within three weeks, a four-thousand page -
The rest of the typed letter was shredded away, and I couldn’t find the envelope or any relevant names or contact information in the pile of paper strips beneath. No matter - this was enough. Something was going on, and this was proof enough to start some sort of investigation.
“Interesting,” the chief of medicine told me, reading the pieces. He leaned back in his large leather chair. “This does match the story you told me…”
“I think something bigger is going on here,” I said.
“What’s it matter?” he replied, quite serious.
“There’s more to the story than she’s crazy. Doesn’t it warrant investigation?”
“She still sees people as monsters, still carved up a security officer and a classmate,” he replied. “So someone played a prank with this scholarship thing. She’s still the one that didn’t sleep for weeks and gave herself brain damage.”
“Why aren’t you more interested?” I asked, growing a little angry. “This is something. At the very least, we uncover some sort of dangerous fraud scholarship.”
“That’s not our job.”
I suddenly clued in that he was absolutely not going to help or condone further investigation in any way. “Yeah, you’re right, I’m sorry,” I lied gracefully.
He smiled. He liked to be right.
On my way out, he said one last thing. “I’ve heard reports that you’re engaging in some odd behavior yourself. Reading files late at night, that sort of thing. Don’t get too close to these patients. Don’t regard their stories as anything other than fabrications of obsessed minds.”
“Why?” I asked. “Afraid crazy is contagious?”
Quite stern, he set his jaw, and gave no response. My comment had been flippant, but his grim response gave me pause.
I’m now convinced that something more is going on - not just with this latest girl, but with other patients as well… and I’m starting to wonder if we have something to do with it…
Update: I'm now certain we are involved in something very dark: