The leather of the seats crinkled as the patient and the doctor sat down opposite one another. The patient wrung his hands, taking a moment to let out a few anxious breaths. He looked to the round the room, making sure to avoid the doctor’s eyes as he reacquainted himself with this environment. The same warm, welcoming room surrounded him, as it had his first time here. He allowed himself to relax into seat slightly. The doctor took notice, and seized the opportunity to break the silence.
“So, can you tell me why you’re visiting me today?”
The words hung stalely in the air as the patient carefully picked his words.
“I think, like, I think I might need some medication, or something,” he replied, focusing his eyes in on a painting on the wall.
The doctor leaned back a bit, the leather crinkling as she did so. “I know, you said that last time,” she plucked a clipboard from the desk beside her and shuffled through the papers for awhile.
“You obviously suffer from a degree of anxiety, and quite possibly paranoia, Ryan, but this is only our second meeting. I’m going to need to know more about what’s going on with you for me to be able to help you.” The doctor explained, in a very kind, gracious voice. Ryan, looked from one painting to another.
Once the doctor realized he wasn’t going to outright state anything, she continued, “well, why don’t we start with something you mentioned quite a few times last session? Ryan, can you tell me more about what made you so scared of the forest?”
Ryan swallowed hard at the mention of the forest. He wrung his hands, looking at his feet as he formulated his tale.
“It was when I was seventeen, I told you I lived in North Carolina when I was younger, right?” He paused for validation, which the doctor gave with a simple nod. “Yeah, well I lived in the mountains. Hiking trails were nothing really close to my house. My friends and I, went out there whenever we had the time.
“Since we were older, our parents let us go camping too. Since we were older and in high school and shit, our parents let us go camping by ourselves. So one weekend, me and four of my friends went out there to camp overnight at this place called the Gorge. One of them wasn’t really my friend. I think his name was Cameron or something, and he was there because he’d gotten his hands on some beer.
“And to be entirely honest, it was disgusting. And it didn’t get me drunk.”
His doctor chuckled, making Ryan look up almost making eye contact with his doctor.
“But anyway,” he continued, “everyone ended up asleep. Our tent was big enough for two people, so earlier that night we’d drawn straws to decide who would sleep inside and who’d sleep outside. Lucky me was stuck outside. It was summer, so it wasn’t that bad, but it still sucked.
“I had rolled my sleeping bag out, and was getting myself settled in. Most of the other guys were asleep, or somehow passed out from that cheap beer, but either way, I was surrounded by people but alone. Which, normally, would have been fine. I mean, it’s a cool summer night, the crickets are out, we’re sleeping near a river, in a nice, safe camping ground, but… it was just weird.”
Scratching the back of his neck, Ryan mulled over the memories in his mind trying to work out his story. He looked up at his doctor, making eye contact for the first time during this entire session. It only lasted seconds, but once Ryan looked away, he could hear the doctor immediately jot down a note on her clipboard.
“It was weird because normally when I feel alone in a forest, I feel alone because I’m physically alone. I’ve gone on hikes by myself, and it’s normally a very serene feeling. Kind of like when you’re at home alone, and you’re so comfortable because you can be yourself? Well, normally the forest is like that for me. But it wasn’t.
“The crickets were chirping, but quieter than they’d normally. I could hear the water, but it was distant and muffled. It was like I was much, much farther away from the river than I was. There were even other people at the camping grounds with us, and I couldn’t hear them anymore either. It wasn’t silent, but it felt like it was. It was like the entire forest was holding its breath, waiting for something. I sat up, and looked around. And as you can imagine, I couldn’t see shit. Our campfire had died by then, and I couldn’t get up to rekindle it.”
“Why couldn’t you, Ryan?”
His eyes shot up to his doctor for a moment, she’d interrupted him. He scratched the back of his neck then continued. “I couldn’t because I heard something. I couldn’t see anything, and so I just sat there, focusing on what I could hear. As I sat there, I began to hear things. At first I didn’t know what I was hearing, but then, as the sounds started to become louder, I realized it sounded like singing. Well, more like chanting. Because it wasn’t just one person, it sounded like a lot. And you know, I realized, that’s why the crickets had gotten quieter, they were listening too.
“I lied back down, because like I said, the chanting seemed to be getting louder, and I knew that I needed to make sure they didn’t see me.”
“But you said you couldn’t see anything, why would they be able to see you?” His doctor interrupted, again.
“I don’t know, I was scared.” Ryan snapped back at her, then reeled back in his chair. He looked up at her for a split second with an anxious expression, then looked away. He started back in a quiet tone, “I heard footsteps.”
“They were coming towards me. And there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t get up, so I couldn’t wake up the guys or run away. I just zipped my sleeping bag up really, really slow so the zipper wouldn’t make any sound, you know, and then I turned towards the inside of our little camp so I wouldn’t be facing the forest. Then, I just listened to them, walking around and chanting all night long.” When Ryan looked back up at his doctor she looked a little chest fallen.
“Did anything else happen besides that?” She asked.
Ryan shook his head, his doctor nodding and scribbling something down on her clipboard.
“Well, Ryan, our time is up, but I do want you to set up another appointment with me next week, is that alright?”
“Yeah,” Ryan quietly replied as she walked him out of her office and to the receptionist, who set his next appointment up. Ryan looked back at his doctor as he exited the offices, catching her roll her eyes and smirk as she talked with the receptionist.
“So how’ve you been since our last session, Ryan?” His doctor asked as they seated themselves on the noisy leather chairs.
Ryan shrugged his shoulders, “Fine I suppose.” He relaxed into the chair, and again gave the room another once over before settling his gaze on his hands.
“So, I wanted to talk to you about your story from last session,” His doctor said, scooting her chair closer to him, almost like a child would do.
“Yes, I was wanting to know if this has affected you since then.”
Ryan looked up at her, weighing his responses in his mind, then looking back down at his hands, idly picking at his fingernails. He could hear the scrawling on pen against paper. “Yeah, I think that it made me a lot more vigilant.”
“Yeah. Like, I’m much more aware of my surroundings, especially when I’m alone. Sometimes I think that’s a bad thing.”
“Why’s that, Ryan?”
“Well it made me realize how out in the open my life is. I mean, I was living with my life on display for the world to see. All you have to do is peek in a window and you can see everything. I’ve done it. You don’t realize how much you can tell about a person’s life just by catching little snippets of it through their windows.”
The doctor readjusted herself in her chair uncomfortably, Ryan looked up at her, determining how to continue. “I… I wanted to see how easy it was. I just, you know, walked up to a neighbour's house and peeked in the window. It was crazy, because I looked and saw, these people seemed like they had a kid, probably about six or seven. Probably a little girl, ‘cause most of the shit was pink or purple. And, it was kind of exhilarating, I was doing this taboo thing, and nobody was stopping me.”
“When did you do this, Ryan?”
Ryan bit his bottom lip, annoyed, but continued, “Probably… maybe a year ago.”
“And you remember this event very vividly?”
“Well yeah. Why do you ask so many questions?”
His doctor sat back a bit and looked back at him, slightly perplexed. Ryan shrunk back a bit when they made eye contact, but he held it for longer than usual. She quickly jotted down a few more notes.
She cleared her throat as she looked back up at him, “Ryan, you do understand that what you did is not okay, right?”
Ryan bit his lip, his chest heaved for a moment as he concentrated his eyes on the floor.
“Of course I do,” He replied.
“Good. Just making sure.”
“Can I continue now?”
His doctor gave him an odd look, but agreed none the less.
“Of course you can, this session is about whatever you want to talk about, Ryan.”
“Okay. Well, you know, I got to thinking, if I could do things like that - looking through windows and shit - what would stop someone else from doing something like that to me? Nothing. I told you first session that I live alone. Well, as you’ve probably guess, I’m really lonely. But you know, that’s okay.
“I’m okay because I have me,” Ryan straightened in his seat, making eye contact with his doctor.
“And since I have me, I decided that if I moved, I’d be okay. So I moved here, to Cincinnati, I got an apartment, and my problem of window-peepers was solved. You know, because I have, like, a third story apartment. They can’t get to me.”
“And you like Cincinnati?”
Ryan nodded slowly, “Yeah, it’s pretty gross in my opinion, but it fits me perfectly. I always wanted to live in a city anyhow.”
“Aren’t you lonely?”
“No,” Ryan answered not skipping a beat, “I’ve got you to talk to.”
His doctor pursed her lips, Ryan looked up at her then away to focus on the clock. “I think it’s time for me to go.”
She looked up at the clock on the wall, then back to him.
“Yes, I think you’re right.”
“I’ll walk myself out.”
Ryan sat himself down on the leather chairs, it’d been three weeks since he’d seen his doctor. She sat herself down across from him, looking as though she had a few important things to say. He made sure to speak first, his points first.
“Jennifer, I found something else that freaked me out.”
His doctor, Jennifer, looked a little taken aback by Ryan’s direct address to her, He hardly gave her enough time to collect her clipboard and pen before he started to recount his tale.
“You see, I was staying in a hotel, I had met this guy, and I didn’t want to take him into my space, you know? So I took him to a hotel. A really nice one. First, I was kind of freaked out, because he could have carried some weird ass disease or be a freak or something, but thankfully he didn’t. Then, I started to think about the mattresses, I mean, have you ever stopped to think about the mattresses in hotels? Not just the shitty ones on the side of the highway, but, I mean, the nice ones too.
“I was so freaked out about it, I rented our room a day early and went there and cut it open. I had to make sure there wasn’t anything in it, you know? Well, there wasn’t, thank god, and so everything went fine with me and the guy.
“But, afterwards, when I got home, I really started to think. I talked it out, and as I did, it really seemed to make sense. You know the elevators, if someone caught you, at the right time of day, all by yourself and such, they could kill you on an elevator and nobody would know.”
Jennifer didn’t seem to be following, giving him a scrutinizing glance before jotting down some more notes.
“Ryan, you know, that could happen to you in places other than an elevator?”
“Yes, I know, could you please shut up,” Ryan snapped, his eyes locked onto his doctor’s. She was shocked, but didn’t say anything as she turned her attention back to writing her notes.
“Can you stop writing too? It’s fucking distracting.”
Ryan waited, watching as Jennifer slowly put her pen and clipboard down, and looked back at him. “Thanks, look, I’m not stupid. I know that you can get killed in other places, but I mean, on an elevator, if you cover the camera up, and rid it from one of the bottom floors to the top, wait for the perfect person to get in, you can just, you know, kill them. That freaks me out.
“And I know what you want to ask, because you’re a doctor and all. ‘Well, Ryan, why does that freak you out?’ or some shit, right? Well I’ll tell you, because I’ve already thought that over too. You see, I was thinking about that time in North Carolina. I realized the more I thought about it, I didn’t hear anything. I hadn’t heard a single damn thing in the forest that night. But I was so fucking scared. I almost pissed my pants that night. All because I thought I’d heard something. Thought. But I was wrong.
“Then I thought about how I moved here because I didn’t want window-peepers. I moved from fucking North Carolina to this shithold of a city so I wouldn’t have to worry about people watching me. And I thought about it, and I realized, you know, people probably don’t watch me. My house was bare, I had basically no decorations or anything, so there was no reason for someone to have wanted to look in. But what scared me, what fucked me up is that I didn’t know if anyone ever did, or had. But I’d convinced myself people had. So I moved here, six hours away from my home. “So, as I was talking about it, and I realized, I wasn’t really scared of the forest, or of other people, or of some disease the guy I fucked might give me. I’m scared of what I can imagine, and what I can do with that imagination. I mean, it’s scary shit. I’m not just scared of mine either, I mean, it kills me not knowing how you’re imagining my stories in your stupid mind. I mean, you’ve probably got it all wrong. But I’m scared of mine more, because, I mean, look what it’s already made me do and feel? I mean I talked to myself for hours and hours trying to figure this out. I’m not talking to voices or anything, I’m fully aware that I’m having discussions with myself. They’re pretty deep too, which is pretty cool. I made up this other ‘voice’. I’ve basically made up most of my personality in these sessions.
“Anyways, you don’t really care about that part, I know. I’ll tell you the part I know you want to know about. Back to the elevators. I couldn’t stop thinking about, like, what if I got in an elevator around ten or so at night at a hotel, at someone was in there with me? That someone, they wouldn’t say anything to me. Once the doors close I’d notice that the man hadn’t pressed a floor level, but I’d only assume he’s on my floor moments after and not give that anymore thought. I’d look up at the camera and notice there was tape covering the lense. This would make me slightly nervous, because even if the security camera were, you wouldn’t want to display that to all the world.
“Then, slowly, the man beside would make a move forwards, pressing the emergency stop button. I’d only just begun to say something as he would turn to me, grab my throat and strangle the life out of me. His face would look so scared, like he didn’t know what he was doing. He probably wouldn’t,” Ryan finished. He looked up at his doctor, she looked visibly shaken.
“And since I took the time to craft this scenario, I realized I needed to make sure it worked. I’ve always acted as my imagination dictated.”
Ryan gave his doctor a shallow smile, his chest heaved as he laughed quietly.
“I executed it perfectly.”