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A Study In Fear


Estimated reading time — 12 minutes

It seems wrong to imagine such horror beginning so calmly. As I drove to the hospital last night, I remember vividly the warmth of the inside of the car, made all the more comfortable by the snow blanketing the landscape around me; I felt enveloped in the seat as I watched the white flakes gracefully fall around me, flashing passed my windows. The gentle sound of the windshield wiper motor mingled in chorus with the sound of the road rushing by. It seemed, at the time, a perfect moment.

It was the ideal kind of night for the fear study to which I’d been assigned. The volunteers would be comfortable and relaxed when they came in. It was all very fascinating, and I continued despite my aversion to the night shift. I’d managed to avoid night shifts for a long time, by getting into the research division of neurosciences. That was a large part of the reason I’d taken the position in the first place. However, this leg of the assignment was just a week, and I felt I could muddle through.


As I pulled into the lot of the hospital, a state of the art, towering building with lots of windows, I remember thinking how sheepish it looked under all the snow. It usually seemed so dominating. I stepped into the warm lobby and ascended the elevator to my office, where the volunteers were quite anxious to get started. I put on my most formidable expression and strolled into the room, where three men and three women stood.

“Good evening, everyone, I’m doctor Montgomery Thorne.” I took them in carefully, trying to decide how comfortable I really wanted to make them. In the six faces I saw some anxiety, some distant interest, and just a little nonchalance. They all clearly felt a little out of element. “I appreciate your coming,” I said, “let me give you a run through of the night.”
”Four of you will be given a small pill. Two of these are placebo, but two of them should activate your adrenergic receptors and cancel your fear response. The other two of you will be given nothing. You’ll be hooked up to a monitoring machine whilst you watch a horror movie, tailored to what you told us you were scared of, and then you’ll try to sleep afterward and we’ll see what happens to your brainwaves. Questions?”

“What if we can’t sleep?” asked the largest man, in a deep voice. Peter, his name badge read. I smiled and answered, “I suspect that several of you won’t be able to sleep. That’s fine, trouble sleeping is a fear response and just as helpful.”
“How, uh, how scary-I mean, are the movies-“ the young woman with a name badge reading ‘Marie’ stuttered out.
I sighed a little to myself, and cut her off before she could stammer away further. “The movies are simple high rated pre-releases we’ve been allowed to use for the experiment; they aren’t particularly gory, just a nice combination of creepiness and jump scares to get your heart rate up a little. That’s all. Nothing to be worried about, I promise. Anyway,” I continued, ignoring another man who had just begun to nervously raise his hand, “your rooms are this way. Please follow me.”

The hospital was absolutely perfect for this. We ascended several floors, and I chose to take them down the dark stairwell, and through the halls with just emergency lights illuminating the way. The participants made some light conversation with each other, nervously discussed what they were doing and several made mention of how creepy the hospital was. One even mentioned something in the shadows. It was then that I began to get the impression of being watched, but with the dark halls and empty rooms, and so many sick people on the floors around us, I supposed that anyone would be nervous in this place. I led them to a hall with six doors, six rooms, and helped each of them get comfortable. My unease began to get the better of me, as I caught myself uncomfortable for just the few steps I had to take alone between rooms. Alas, I had a job to do. I checked their EEG headpieces and left them to it. An hour after I had arrived at the hospital, I was in the monitoring room, watching tiredly the graphs from the machine and the feeds from the cameras in each room. A half an hour later, despite the creaking walls and darkness, I found myself nodding off. I fell asleep for only a moment, just long enough for that shocking feeling of falling to jerk me back to reality.

Damn, I thought. I glanced over all the feeds. Everything was going well. I laughed as I watched the man in room four practically jump out of his chair from whatever he was watching. The man then looked up at the camera; probably wondering if I had seen him jump. Sure did, I mused, but the man continued to stare. I peered back into the monitor, growing uneasy, and noticed the reflections in the man’s eyes; something was moving. I decided that it must be a loose air vent, or perhaps a tear in the wallpaper. I peered over at the EEG scans for that room and saw, with no small amount of irritation, nothing. The brainwaves had flat lined. I looked back at the camera feed; something was wrong. The man was wearing his headpiece; it just wasn’t reading. I looked deeper still into the monitor, and a chill ran down my spine from a nagging feeling that something about the room was very off. Finally, I shook my head clear, stretched, and made my way toward the door to check on room four. In my tired stupor, I walked right into it with a loud thud.


Damn, I though again. I could swear I left this open. I pulled on the handle, which clicked oddly when it turned, and pulled on the door, but it didn’t open. My irritation grew, and I pulled harder, and saw the door flex back into the frame, as though it were fighting me. Naturally, I thought it was my tired imagination at work. I shook my head again and yanked it open as hard as he could; it came free and I fell backward, right into the computer. The monitors all went out.

Shit! I cursed loudly as my hand fumbled in the dark behind the computer and found a loose cord; thank God, the monitors had just come unplugged. I plugged them back in and looked up to see only static. Static? That made no sense. I sat down and was about to check the wires when I saw a face in the static of monitor three. A chill ran down my spine as I held my gaze to it, studying it; it seemed to be smiling. Its mouth then opened wide, and suddenly the monitors popped back on. Marie, in room three, was now sitting with her back against the wall, staring up at the camera, crying. She looked like she was pleading. I felt bad for her, but she had signed the waiver, and it was my job to make sure the test continued. The woman in room one had her hand down just below the view of the camera, making a motion as though she were petting something. Her eyes were glued to the television in terror. I peered at the monitors closely, unsure of what to do. If I went into the room, I’d interrupt the test. But what the hell was the room one woman doing? Pretending to pet a dog? Maybe that was how she coped with fear. Could be worse, I supposed. I turned back toward the door, this time to check on rooms four and three, and as I did so, a small shadow bolted away from across the hall.

My heart was then set firmly in my throat. Damn it, I thought, I could’ve hooked myself into an EEG. I slowly peered my head out from the doorway, looked both ways down the hall, and saw nothing. I sighed and shuffled over to room four, but as my hand approached the doorknob, I got a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. Something had occurred to me, and I bolted back into the monitor room and looked at the room four feed again. It was the walls. There was a very faint pattern running along the walls, absent in all of the other rooms; or, for that matter, any part of the hospital I had ever seen; some faint pink abstract lines against the usual green. It was barely perceptible, not something I would’ve even noticed if I hadn’t already been so nervous. With that thought, I headed back out to room four. The same ominous feeling crawled over my skin as I neared the door, and I felt my blood run cold as I grasped the doorknob; steeling my resolve, I twisted it open. An odd sigh came from the door, and then there was a scream and a warm rush of air against me. I leaped from the door in shock, heart once again in my throat. The man within peered out of the room and asked, “everything ok, doc?”

Scream. The movie, of course. Jesus. “Yeah,” I said, trying to hold my voice steady, “something’s wrong with your EEG.”
“I think something’s wrong with my room.” Justin, his name tag said.
“Like what?”
“Well, for one, the TV doesn’t work.”
Surprised, I looked up. Indeed, the TV wasn’t working. Another chill ran down my spine. “Did you hear a scream just now?”
“No.” Justin looked up at the camera. Something about his gaze shook my soul, and I looked up as well, but didn’t see anything. Uneasiness danced in my stomach. Finally, I tore my gaze away, looked over the machine, then unplugged the wire leading out to the headpiece; red fluid trickled out of the plug. Puzzled, and my uneasiness building, I looked up at Justin. “Did you unplug this?”
Justin shook his head. “No, he did.” He pointed up toward the camera. I looked up again, to the empty corner, the shadow behind the camera. I looked back down at Justin. Then at the strange patterns on the walls. “Who did?”
“I think you’re losing it, man. Can I keep watching?”
Now thoroughly confused, I looked up at the dead TV again. “Yeah, uh,” I looked back at Justin, “you want to watch a blank TV?”
“That’s not what I’m watching.” Justin smiled wide, and then gazed back up to the camera. My confusion and uneasiness mingled with fear, and I slowly backed out of the room and shut the door.


As I did so, I heard a bang from room three. I stepped toward the door and for a fleeting moment, begged myself to check the monitors first; but something about seeing Justin staring at me through the monitor was too much for me to even consider. I opened the door to a room in unnatural darkness, and there was the woman within, staring at me as though she expected me to be there. It was Marie, the girl who’d sounded so scared earlier; she was shaking, on the verge of crying. “Doctor, is this part of the test?” She pointed to the wall.


Even in the dark I could see the pink pattern running itself down under the wallpaper. With a sudden, horrified realization, and with what I can only describe as animal instinct, I dug my nails into the wallpaper and ripped a chunk of it away; red fluid spattered out of the opening. Some landed in my mouth, and with a disturbing bewilderment, I tasted blood. Spitting, I turned, and involuntarily leaped back into the bloody wall when I saw Marie standing almost right up against me, the light from the hall illuminating her features sideways and twisting her face.

“What’s wrong, doctor?” Her voice was shaking, and she stepped toward me, then looked up at the camera. My gaze followed, and this time, there was movement in the shadow of the corner behind it. I looked back to Marie, terrified, but she simply pressed her finger to her lips. I then slid against the wall, smearing blood against my back, trying desperately to get away from her, and she just stood, watching. I stumbled out of the room and grabbed the phone across the hall.

“Emergency number,” I mumbled, dialing, and pressed the phone to my ear. I turned around as it rang and saw Marie in her doorway, still wearing her headpiece, looking up at the camera and sobbing. Then, finally, there was a click on the other line, the sound of the phone being answered. “Hello?” I asked pleadingly, but all I heard was breathing.

“Hello?” I felt my eyes tear up in fear. The heavy breathing turned to growls, and I slammed the phone back down. Marie was now looking at me- no, she was looking at the ceiling above me. A cold chill shook me to the core; don’t look up, I thought, I refuse to look up; and, pressed against the wall, I slid back into the monitor room, closing the door behind me, just in time to see the lights in the hall go out, plunging Marie into complete darkness.


Marie’s brainwaves were all over the place, Justin’s were still flat lined, along with the woman in room two. Frankly, I couldn’t make sense of any of the patterns I saw. The woman in room one was now crouched, facing whatever she had been petting before, still off-camera. I couldn’t see her face, and I had the distinct impression that I didn’t want to. The pink was sliding down behind the wallpaper in her room. I wanted to run, just run and get the hell out of there, but I didn’t want to leave my patients behind. The woman in room two was staring at the monitor, facing away from the camera, and she wasn’t moving. As I tried to see what was on her monitor, I saw Peter, in room six, suddenly leap out of his chair toward the door, and the monitors all went out, and I was immersed again in darkness.

I threw myself against the monitor room door, with every intention of this time running straight for the exit. I yanked with all my might, but the door seemed to yank back. I kicked and pulled, kicked again, and my foot went through it. A sharp yell escaped my throat as I tried in vain to pull my foot back through, but it was no use. My leg was stuck. To my horror, I felt hands wrap around my foot and begin to pull; I thrashed against the door, but my leg was being pulled further and further in. Finally I grasped the doorknob again and pulled with all my might; this time it gave way, swung open, but with my foot firmly planted I fell backward into the wall. I kicked my other foot hard against the door and it finally came free, but my shoe was gone. I then leaped up and scurried out of the room, noting that my shoe was nowhere to be seen. The only light came from the green exit sign, casting a sickly glow and deep shadows across the hall. Marie was now huddled in her doorway, screaming at the camera in her room, or the shadow behind it; Justin was out of his room, beckoning me, his face disturbingly calm. I shook my head and slid against the wall, this time toward the exit, until I heard heavy breathing from my destination. Passed the sign, down by the stairs, two orange lights came in to view, stalking toward me. They bobbed up and down, the eyes of an animal, and I suddenly became very aware of the sound of heavy paws touching the ground, the click of claws against tile; I looked back the other way, passed the monitor room, toward the break area, but I knew there was no exit that way. With every bit of resolve I could muster, I ran across the hall, into room one.

The woman was petting the wolf with one hand, while it chewed on her other arm. It had eaten up to her elbow. My mind seemed to seize up; it was too much for me. There was simply too much to process, and I was too horrified to move. The woman looked up at me, sobbing, yet still mechanically petting the evil beast. She then gazed up at the camera above me, and again, I looked up, and finally I saw it; packed into the corner of the room and yet somehow infinite, it glared back at me. I was locked in place as it crawled down the wall, yellow eyes never blinking. Finally, as its first paw touched the floor, I snapped out of my stupor, flung the door away and ran – right into Justin, and fell to the floor. He looked at me with what I can only describe as passive indifference, and it horrified me even more still.

I struggled to get up; my legs wouldn’t cooperate. I wobbled, felt dizzy and sick, and heard abruptly the man in room five begin screaming in what sounded like abject agony. The door of room six burst open, and Peter fell face first into the floor, spattering blood all around him. “Please,” he pleaded to some unseen force, “let go of me! Please let go of me!” Justin turned and watched with nonchalance as the shadows from room six seemed to envelope Peter and drag him back inside, leaving a long streak of blood behind. I then turned my attention back toward room one, to the thing crawling out of the shadows, the twisted, broken figure of a wolf. Justin knelt beside it, and it smiled. It was a smile that made me want to scream, or weep; but I couldn’t seem to move. It crawled up to me, examining me, hot breath pushing hard against my face, the smell of death and rot permeating my nostrils. Its eyes pierced my very soul, and the walls seemed to shake, and sway back and forth with the beast’s breath; the wolf in room one was now up to the woman’s shoulder and the sounds from the stairwell had become wheezing and barking. For all the glowing eyes gazing into me and the horrors around me, I trembled greater still when my eyes fell back on Justin, leaning against the wall, as though he were bored. Where my final burst of energy came from, I’ll never know, but I leapt up and ran to the only place I had a hope of getting to; back into the damned monitor room. I’ve barricaded myself in, and done my best to make sense of all this.

Justin had the adrenergic receptor pills. As I looked through documentation I wasn’t supposed to read, I learned that the woman from room one’s worst fear is being eaten alive, and Marie had a great fear of darkness. Peter listed his fear as seeing his own organs, God help him. I am deeply thankful that the monitors aren’t working, thankful for the faces watching me in the static, for the alternative seems so much worse. I have now only this laptop and the banging and scratching from the hall. I can smell blood in here with me now. I will remain here until they get through the door, or until I’m driven mad.

They don’t know what my fears are. What will they do to me?

Credit To – C.Vox


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