I was in a room. It looked like the ground floor of an office building. There was a desk with a receptionist, tapping away at a keyboard, and stairs leading up to the next floor. But the design… it was all white. I had to turn away at first, blinded by the brightness. When my eyes adjusted, I turned back. The receptionist took notice.
“Oh! Hello, there! Come, please. I won’t bite, I promise!”
I hesitantly stepped over to the front desk.
“What is this place?” I asked.
“This is the hereafter.”
“Hereafter?” I asked, baffled.
“Yes. You had a terrible accident, I’m sorry to say. Took a tumble down the stairs and bumped your head.”
I tried to remember, but everything was fuzzy.
“You’re expected upstairs in Room 371. I’ll take you there!”
Before I could object, she walked out from behind the desk and grabbed my arm, pulling me up the stairs with a vicious grip, smiling the whole way up.
“Don’t look so troubled, dear. It will be over before you know it. A quick procedure. Then you can move on.”
“Procedure? Where are you taking me?”
She smiled again.
“You humans are always so inquisitive. Such a strange trait.”
Soon enough, we arrived at what I presume was Room 371; a black door at the end of a long, white hall. The dissonance was unsettling.
“Here we are!”
The receptionist knocked twice. An older gentleman opened the door to greet us. He was maybe in his 50s. Well dressed. Gray mustache.
“Ah yes. This must be our latest arrival. How are you?” he asked, putting his hand on my shoulder.
“A little confused, actually. Is this… heaven?” I asked.
The man and woman chuckled.
“So strange how they all ask that. Well, let’s begin.”
The receptionist handed me to the gentleman and closed the door behind us. I was now in an equally black room; small- maybe 12 meters by 12 meters. There was a chair, akin to one you might find in a dentist’s office, and a podium behind it, upon which was a device. Before I could get a better look, the man pushed me into the chair. Restraints automatically wrapped around my wrists and ankles.
“What the hell is this?”
I tried to break free, but it was no use.
“Calm down. You’ll only make things worse for yourself. It’s best if you don’t struggle. Not much point in it anyhow.”
Another individual entered the room. A younger gentleman.
“Henry. Where in God’s name have you been? Quick, come man the controls.”
“Yes, Sir. Sorry, Sir.”
Henry stepped over to the podium and started adjusting things. The older man walked over to me and smiled. He pulled a sharp, silver utensil from his pocket.
“Don’t fight it. It’s just a few, small incisions. That’s all.”
In a flash, the silver met my forehead. It was over so fast, I barely had time to wince. The man had engraved three straight lines into the skin just below my hairline.
“There. That wasn’t so bad. Henry, are we ready?”
“Yes, Sir. Everything has been calibrated.”
I chimed in.
“What are you doing to me?!”
They both laughed. Then, the older man leaned in.
“We’re extracting your essence. But first, we need to access your memories. The powerful ones. The recollections that have stuck with you, even after long bouts of time have passed. You have those, don’t you?”
I felt Henry place a helmet on me. It shrunk to match the outline of my head. The man gave it a few knocks.
“This here will show us what we need to see. Then, the pathways should illuminate. A road-map to the human soul. That’s what we need. FIRE IT UP, HENRY!”
Sharp needles pierced the cuts on my forehead from within the helmet. I felt a searing pain as they penetrated my skull. I screamed, but the men in the room didn’t react. Suddenly, an image appeared on the black wall ahead- like a projection, almost. It was… a memory. One of my memories.
As I watched, awestruck, something happened. My consciousness was seamlessly transferred. In an instant, I was transported to the scene, now reliving the moment on the wall.
Rebecca and I stared at the farmhouse. It wasn’t much to look at, but it had potential. That, and the land around it was vast- surrounded by a beautiful forest.
“Is it everything you hoped it would be?” Rebecca asked, wrapping her arms around me.
“It is, actually.”
I put my arms around her waist and turned to meet her gaze. We had been together only a year, but I knew. Before this point, I truly cared for her, but in this moment, I fell. Now that we were starting a life together, all bets were off. She was the one, and I couldn’t have been happier.
I awoke in the black room like a diver coming up for air. My lungs were on fire. Reliving memories was not a painless procedure.
“No, Henry! What have I told you a thousand times before? Happy memories won’t do. They’re not powerful enough. Find me something dreadful, and do it fast before he’s a goner.”
“Goner?” I asked.
The receptionist entered and handed the man a cup. A beverage I can only guess was their equivalent to coffee.
“Thank you, Mildred. Lord knows I need it.”
She left. Henry fiddled around at the helm and charted course for a different moment in my sordid past. In an instant, I was transported there. This was one memory I had tried so desperately to forget.
It was dark, right around midnight. I woke up to an empty rest of the bed. I assumed Rebecca had gone to the bathroom. I can’t explain it, but, as I waited for her return, something felt wrong. The kind of feeling when you enter a room and a picture frame is slightly askew. You can tell something’s amiss, but can never quite put your finger on what.
I laid there for a long while and let the unrest consume me. It was only then that I decided to get out of bed and see if Rebecca was alright.
Something drew my attention to the window. A figure in the clearing behind the house. I stepped over to the glass for a better look and saw it. It was Rebecca, falling to the ground. My heart sank.
I raced out of the house, screaming her name. When I reached her, I knelt to the ground by her side. She was covered in blood, holding a kitchen knife. She cried and spoke with what little energy she had left.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I had to. The voices. They wouldn’t stop. I had to make them stop. I-”
Her voice trailed off. The life left her eyes. She was gone.
Once again, I sprang to life in that godforsaken, black room, left to reflect on my past. Rebecca was mentally ill. She was seeing a psychologist, but, unbeknownst to me, she had stopped taking her medicine. I had no idea her condition would get that bad. I had no idea she would even think of taking her own life.
And of course, it was all my fault. I should have seen the warning signs. I should have sought better council. I should have gotten out of bed sooner.
My introspection was interrupted by the older gentleman.
“Henry, that’s it! A perfect memory if there ever was one! Keep going, we need another! Just one more should do it! Look for-”
The sound of liquid meeting something electrical filled my ear. Sparks flew into my peripheral vision. The man had spilled his drink on the controls.
“Dear God.” I heard Henry say.
“Henry, how could you let this happen?”
It was then that a new image appeared on the wall, and I was once again transported to another place. This time, I didn’t know what to expect.
Blood. At least, that’s what it looked like. An ocean of red, tossing and turning in the field behind my house. At the center of this blood sea; a door, void of any connecting architecture, standing absolutely still on the surface despite the pandemonium unfolding around it. I was adrift in the fierce current, barely able to keep my head above the waves.
Whilst treading water, I watched the the door open. My wife, Rebecca, was within. She spread her arms and the tides followed. The sea parted before me and I landed below, coughing the contents of my lungs out onto the ground.
I turned to see her stepping past the threshold of the doorway. She walked out into the field, walls of red water on either side of her. Eventually, she stopped where I was and looked down at me. She was beautiful. Just as beautiful as the day we met.
“Hello, my love.”
I tried to respond, but there was still water in my throat.
I blinked and she was gone. Her voice met my ear from behind.
“Why didn’t you save me?”
I turned and saw her, now bloodied. It was the same state she was in when I found her in the field.
“Was I not good enough? Did you want me to die?”
I finished clearing my passages and stood, tears rolling down my cheeks.
“I’m sorry, Rebecca. I didn’t know. I-”
“That’s not good enough!”
She vanished again. I turned around. She was there, now clean, holding an infant in her arms.
“This is Abigail. Isn’t she precious?”
“We never had a child, Rebecca.”
“You’re right, hon. This is the baby I would have birthed, had I lived long enough to have her. Don’t you remember picking out the names? Jack for a boy, after his father, and Abigail for a girl.”
I remembered. We laid in the field for hours one night, looking up at the full moon and discussing where our life together was headed. At one point, we talked about children. Rebecca wanted three, but I insisted on no more than two. One boy and one girl. Jack and Abigail. We mapped out their childhoods and pictured every moment. Parenting wouldn’t be easy, but we agreed it would all be worth it.
“I remember, Rebecca.”
She walked over to me and handed me the baby. I looked into its eyes. She was perfect. It’s hard to say how I knew, but it was her. The same Abigail we pictured years ago.
“You should have saved me, Jack. Now, they’ll never exist.”
A harsh wind came from the forest. I watched in horror as Abigail’s form turned to dust and slipped through the gaps between my fingers. I had only known her for a moment, but still, I cried. My little girl, gone.
“Why are you doing this?” I pleaded.
Her face was now tinged with anger.
“You deserve to feel the same regret. I plunged the blade into my skin, but you could have stopped it. I needed you that night, and you weren’t there.”
With that, the floodgates opened. A dam of tears burst and streamed down my face. So too did the blood water around us. It towered overhead for a brief period before crashing into me. Once above the waves, I watched as Rebecca walked across the water and into that red door. She looked back and offered me one last sentiment.
The torment was over, but it had taken its toll. I let myself sink to the depths of the ocean. It would be my final resting place. After everything that had been dredged up, I truly wanted to wither and die.
I wavered in and out of consciousness. I could hear Henry and the man arguing.
“He’s not doing so well in there. We may have to cut this one loose. We can’t afford the backlash if this gets out.”
“Pull yourself together, Henry! If we can just get one more good one…”
That was the last thing I heard before passing out. For a time, I drifted through the black void of a dreamless slumber, until, finally, something pulled me out. Rebecca’s voice. A thunderous cadence that would have woken even a bear from its hibernation.
“WAKE UP, JACK!”
I awoke in a white room; the kind of which I recognized. It was a hospital.
A nurse was checking my vitals when she looked over and noticed.
“Oh gosh! You’re awake! Brilliant! You’ve been out for quite some time.”
“What happened?” I asked in a groggy slur of speech.
“You were found inside your home, at the bottom of the stairs. You’ve been comatose for nearly a week.”
I tried pulling myself up into a sitting position. She pushed my shoulders back down.
“Please, rest. You’ve lost a lot of electrolytes. I’ll go get the doctor. She’ll help. Sit tight!”
The nurse left and I gathered some composure.
Comatose, huh? Does the body wonders. Strange nightmares. Repressed memories. The works.
I let out a morbid laugh, amazed that my brain could even construct such dream worlds. Still, my eyes welled up recalling the image of Rebecca and our unborn daughter.
After a few moments, the doctor came in and greeted me. She explained my battered state and advised me to stay for observation over the next few days. I agreed. She went over the finer points of my treatment, but then took a detour to discuss something else.
“There is something… troubling that we can’t quite explain.”
“Troubling? What is it?” I asked.
“Well, when you came in, you were coughing up blood. We didn’t find any signs of internal bleeding, so we sent a sample out to be tested. As it turns out, it wasn’t yours. We cross-referenced it with other patients in the database, and there was a hit. A suicide from years ago. Your wife, Rebecca.”
How could this be? Unless…
“There’s one more thing I wanted to ask. What happened to your head?”
“My head?” I asked, unsure of she was referring to. It was then that I noticed the faint brush of gauze against my scalp.
“Here, take a look.”
She handed me a mirror and carefully removed the bandage. I was mortified by the sight.
Above my eyes were three perfectly straight cuts, etched across my skin.
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