Estimated reading time — 6 minutes
Ever since I was a child, I always had a crippling fear of doctors. You may wonder why; these individuals were here only to heal us, mend us. Ignoring slight hiccups in medical practice, everything they did was beneficial. And yet, I could not even be in the same room as one without shivering, without the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end.
Maybe it’s because I’m squeamish, I would tell myself. Perhaps it was because my young mind linked pain and illness to them; it would make sense to a child, since you go to the doctors when you aren’t feeling well, maybe they were the ones that caused it. Of course, this didn’t help my fear at all; it probably served to perpetuate it further. But it gave me a small comfort that there was a reason, a rational explanation for having such an irrational fear.
But, in reality, it was because of the nightmares. From the age of eight I suffered horrific dreams, all of which were based in a specific hospital. Unlike your usual sterile building, where smiling nurses would escort patients suffering from all kinds of ailments to the correct rooms to be treated, it was disgusting.
The place seemed abandoned, the walls stained with dark brown over the peeling, sun-bleached walls that have turned to a sickly ivory colour. The ceiling tiles were damaged, exposing the pipes and cables above. Some snaked down, broken and sparking, only to add to the decrepit nature of the place. The furniture was torn and scattered across the floor, if present at all. All of the halls and rooms were poorly lit, as if the backup power was being used to keep the place lit.
What made the dream even more unnerving was that the hospital seemed familiar. As if I had been there before, and that it wasn’t just some place in my head. The second floor of the hospital, and some elements of the main entrance and stairwells, bore an uncanny resemblance to a hospital I went to when I was younger for a check-up. It would make sense that this would be the case; dreams are based very loosely off of what has happened to you, and then are distorted as your brain sifts through the information.
But, it wasn’t the hospital that frightened me. It wasn’t the walls or the ceilings that caused me to wake in fits of shivering and screams. It was what was in the dream with me that frightened me the most.
The creature was tall, gangly, and seemed to have an aura of filth surrounding him. He wore a long, stained coat, similar if not identical to those worn by a doctor. It was closed mostly, but underneath he wore a brown waistcoat, made of leather, and long black trousers, with pointed black shoes, much like that of a suit. His hands were covered in large black rubber gloves. His right glove had syringes strapped to the tops of his fingers, with long, cruel spikes where different hues of green and brown liquid dripped. They were linked to canisters on his back, long sections of translucent tubing connecting them to his fingers.
But his face, or lack there of, was the most terrifying. He wore a mask, made of browning leather, with two large metal rings and thick, green lenses where the eyes would be. Instead of a nose, a long beak protruded from the mask, with a barbed end. The mask covered his face entirely, strapped onto his head. the rest of his head was covered with a black veil, over which the straps were tied, and a small tricorn hat, made of the same material as his trousers, also black.
He would stalk me through my dreams, slowly pacing his way towards me, a distorted chuckle seeping from his mask. I could run as fast as I wanted, I could even try to get out of the hospital. But the doors were always locked, and he would always find me. No-matter where I hid, no-matter where I ran, he would catch me in his left hand. He would hold me up to his lenses, and would seem to inspect me. He would then run his beak over me, before cackling and spearing me with his syringe-glove, injecting me with poison and plague. I could feel myself rotting from the inside out, foaming at the mouth.
And then I would scream.
And then I would wake up.
For years, he tormented me. I couldn’t sleep without him tainting my dreams. I couldn’t daydream without him haunting my thoughts. It got to the point where my parents were even worried about me. I would be sent to psychiatrist after psychiatrist, and each time they would just prescribe the same old pills. Anti-depressants and sleeping pills were the most common, and all they did were make me think about him even more.
I decided to name him when I was ten, after doing a project about the Black Death. I ended up settling with “The Plague Doctor”. His mask resembled that of those old healers, and much like them he wasn’t a doctor at all. He was a quack; he never helped anyone, he only aided the spread of disease and was a harbinger of despair.
As the years passed, my terrors slowly subsided, getting gradually less and less intense. Though he never left me completely, less of my dreams would be centered around the hospital. Some nights I could even get a decent rest, without being interrupted by his presence. He never truly left me, but I could finally go to sleep and not have to worry about being trapped in that building anymore
You may be wondering why I’m telling you this now. Why am I telling you about this night terror, about the phantasm that has caused me so much pain? Why am I telling you if I seem to have gotten over it so well, to the point that he no longer haunts my thoughts.
The answer is simple, really: I saw him in real life.
But he wasn’t wearing his long coat, or his cruel glove, or his concealing mask. Now he wore a suit, a ring, and an aged grin. He wasn’t tall and thin anymore, he had become shorter and stouter and older.
When I first walked in here, it was for a routine check-up. Don’t you remember? When I came into the practice, and I locked my gaze with yours. I could see something stiring in your eyes, and then you cracked the slightest of grins. And then I realized why you smiled, and it made me scream.
I had seen you before. I had seen you when I was a child.
Much like now, I was just going in for a routine check-up, that was all. I was just there to have a few injections. Back then, I didn’t really have an issue with doctors, only needles. And I was confident in myself. I told my dad that I could do this on my own. So he dropped me off at the hospital, and said he would meet me at the diner across the street whilst he did some shopping.
I went through the main entrance, climbed the stairs and made my way to your room at the end of the hall. When I sat down, you asked where my parents were, do you remember? I saw no reason to lie, you were a doctor after all. A good man. So I told you that they weren’t here, that I was doing this all by my self. And you nodded, and went to lock the door. And then you grinned at me, like you did when I came for my check-up. And then you injected me. You tied me down and filled me with your poison. I was sick after what you did to me. And then, after you had cleaned me up, and yourself, that if I ever told my parents or anyone about what happened to me here, you would kill my dad. And then you chuckled and sent me on my way.
You aren’t a doctor. You’re a quack, a fake. You didn’t help me. You destroyed me. I was sent out of that room a different child. And within me the seeds of my nightmares germinated, and so it blossomed.
The Plague Doctor is your avatar, an image my mind came up with when to shield me from things I could not understand. It was the horrible monster that would capture me, laugh at me, inject me, poison me. You took my life that day, and created an abomination.
Well, it seems both of us have limited time now. I can hear the sirens outside just as well as you. I guess you take the law more seriously now you’re nearly retired. But that won’t change what I’m about to do. Now I’m going to slay this beast. I’m going to kill the Plague Doctor, once and for all.
And maybe then, I can get a good night’s sleep.
Credit To – Crustacean174