The path was a long perpetual march into the unknown. It served a purpose he could not fathom. All he could perceive was a grey, thick, ever constant wall that kept him on this endless road to nothingness. He saw something in front of him: a wooden sign, with two arrows, pointing left and right. The left read regret and the other forget.
He wanted to seek redemption but it lingered in his mind that he had stood at this point before. So many times he had chosen neither path, only to wake and have it buried deep within his subconscious. It now surged forward like a tide. His consciousness shouted but he squashed it.
Almost instinctively he turned and walked right, the thick grey weighing on his shoulders and compressing into his chest. He heard the cries of a woman behind him. The consciousness wailed, crumbling around him. In disobeying it, would he lose himself?
He heard a childish laugh ahead of him and a small figure emerged, but only for a few seconds before disappearing off into the mangled forest. The sudden sharp pain in his heels caused him to stop for a second but still he continued on, agony searing his ankles and traversing his legs. He finally reached the point of no return. The path led only one way.
The black abyss beckoned, calling him in. Trust it, and let his mind go. Forget everything. All that he loved and cared about would be forever buried never to enter his waking thought. He closed his eyes feeling weightless, as if cast adrift on an endless sea the current carrying him ever forward but never back. The sensation of falling suspended his heart inside him. All this so powerful that it drowned out her cries. So desperate and so painful, he knew death was cruel and that this torment would forever plague him. No one truly forgets and as he opened his eyes he saw a large face full of colour. The numbness that had afflicted him subsided slightly. He lay in the arms of a stranger and could hear cars and trucks fly past. The stranger helped him stand.
“You’ve been walking these past few miles, are you okay?”
“I’m fine, just not sure how I got here,” he answered.
“I can take you to the hospital if you like; your feet are bleeding quite badly.”
He looked down for the first time. He was wearing a sleeveless shirt and pyjama bottoms. His bare feet were red raw. He could not feel any pain, which was unusual.
“Yes, probably a good idea,” he replied, attempting a meagre smile.
They soon arrived at the hospital, the numbness subsided. Every step made him wince. He could barely walk. The stranger helped him to the reception desk. A nurse soon found a free bed and informed him a doctor would arrive shortly. The stranger left the room. The shadows loomed over him, reducing him to a child. He hid under his sheet, as it to hide from the monsters. Maybe his mind was overthinking. The door swung open, heavy footsteps and breathing soon reached him. The surgeon stood over him with a face so horrifically scarred that the stitches holding the skin together threatened to burst open revealing bone and taut muscle.
“So many chose regret, but for those who forget. Well they get special treatment.”
“Special treatment?” He answers nervously.
“Yes,” said the surgeon raising a butcher’s knife, it was still coated in the dried remains of its previous victims.
The surgeon pressed just its blunt tip into his ankle. He cried out as crushing pain shot through him, causing his leg to recoil, “Pain, dearest patient, is our friend and most enduring companion. For you to forget you must learn to suffer. You will require further surgery.” He turned slowly on his heels and marched out.
The man shivered in his bed; stretching his leg he saw that just pressing the tip onto his skin left some of his skin hanging. Warmth trickled over his toes and soaked the white sheets red. The door opened again and much to his relief, the stranger and an actual doctor entered. Pleasantries aside, the doctor advised he stay a few days until his feet recovered. He agreed but held back on mentioning the previous doctor. He doubted they would believe him; the thought of being put in an asylum terrified him. Perhaps, it was also just a hallucination; after all he was feeling light headed, and drowsy. Neither man had noticed the blood red sheets. In fact he had to look twice. They were still white.
The stranger kept returning now and then but eventually he left late on in the night as he drifted between the waking world and sleep. He heard those heavy footsteps outside the door. He laid still craving silence, but the constant sound of shuffling feet outside made his heart thump louder. Sweat trickled down his cheek as his shaking hands clenched the bed sheets. The sound soon subsided and almost immediately he found himself starting to drift off.
The creaking door disturbed him but he kept his eyes firmly shut. The footsteps returned, getting gradually louder. His skin went cold. The scarred face flashed in his mind, its expression held only contempt. The person sat down silently, except for their heavy breathing. The door opened again. More footsteps, this time stopping at the end of the bed.
“I never understood humans, and their need to rest. How they drift between the worlds of the living and the dead. That somehow allows them to bear witness to realms of infinite wonder. I would rather an eternal empty sleep, than a normal mundane life filled with false hopes, and broken truths. What do you think Cecilia?”
He heard heavy grunts, but no words.
“Yes, perpetual sleep would be an interesting experience. Our friend here is pretending to do so now. See how his eyes are clenched shut. I wonder if I can have the chance see to see -”
A sudden jab in his leg caused him to flinch, his eyes shot open. The intense pain caused him to sit up, pulling his legs up and plunging his head behind them. The only sound now came from the rotating fan above. They are not real he sought to reassure his mind. This is just a dream; they are just figments of my imagination. He looked over the ridge of his knees towards the end of bed. The female nurse called Cecilia stood like a guardian over him; her long charcoal hair covered most of her face, with only a single scarred eye visible. She had a forced smile. As her mouth opened, he was sickened to see a lack of a tongue, and rotting yellow teeth that dripped red. He threw up on the bed. The doctor paid no notice to it.
“Sadly for you, I am as real as you are. No amount of force will wish me out of existence. As for my colleague here, I believe speech is a gift. But it can be abused and she in particular became rather irritating. So I removed her tongue. Isn’t that right?” he said loudly.
Cecilia nodded eagerly.
“What are you?” He asked.
“A surgeon, they called me Laech. You are my patient. I thought I made this clear?” He looked at the torn dead flesh on his arm as if in a trance. “So fragile, you humans. But you my patient have my attention. I will be watching. Cecilia it is time to leave him.”
She gave Laech a look of dismay.
“Relax, dear Cecilia. We will be coming back for him. Mark my words.”
They left quickly, slamming the door behind them.
He sat whimpering under his soggy sick covered sheets. He didn’t understand what this thing wanted. The demeanour suggested something more than surgeon. This man seemed more like a serial killer; the kind that toys with your mind before delivering the final blow.
He awoke to sunlight blaring in. A nurse entered, thankfully not Cecilia and that maniac. The mysterious stranger was with her. Most would have abandoned him by now but this man was different it seemed.
“You have been cleared to leave. Mr. Saxon here has found somewhere you can stay and we found no personal belongings on you. We don’t have much on record.”
He thought for a moment, ‘I don’t recall much. Where’s the place?’
Mr. Saxon answered, “A motel, south of here. It should be sufficient until your memory comes back.”
The motel was a short drive from the hospital, he was feeling better. For one he could walk. It no longer hurt putting pressure on his heels. Every attempt to mention the Surgeon however made him feel queasy. The wall of fog surrounding them reminded him of his dream. The feeling of being on a set path; leading only to oblivion. When they reached the motel, the fog became thicker; its presence suffocated them, Mr. Saxon looked quite nervous as they entered the reception area.
“Something’s unnatural about all this. It’s like we’re being imprisoned.”
He agreed. He felt like something was lying in the fog, observing from a distance. He wanted to shrug it off as paranoia but he just couldn’t.
The reception was warm and inviting. Its walls were aligned with portraits, depicting green fields and the beauty of nature. Finally, he felt safe. The feeling of being watched niggled at the back of his mind. He slowly turned round and saw her. The fog hid her figure, but the face was unmistakable. Cecilia waved at him. Without realising he did too. Mr. Saxon was soon at his side.
“Who are you waving at?”
He looked at Mr. Saxon, “I don’t know.”
“Well here’s your key. Your room’s on the second floor. I’ll be right next door if you need me.”
Mr. Saxon twisted his key and was about to enter his room when he paused for a moment. “I never had the chance to get your name.”
“I don’t quite recall it.”
“Strange, by the way you talk in your sleep,” said Mr. Saxon. “You say forget, a lot. Now I always believe you should cherish your memories. So I can’t quite imagine why you would be willing to forget something.”
“Me neither,” he answered slowly.
“Well, if you need me, you know where I am.”
Mr. Saxon smiled and entered his room.
The door was stiff but it opened. The telly was on still. She never usually left it on. A scent of strawberries drifted over to him. He saw on the coffee table, a lipstick-stained glass with a small amount of red wine remaining. He saw another close by but that was empty. When he walked over to the table something heaved in his jacket pocket. Slowly, he placed his hand in the pocket, and felt something smooth. When he removed the object from his pocket he was surprised to find it was a gun; light and, flat with a silver barrel. Its shine stood out in the dark room. Something else soon caught his eye. A white shirt partially draped over the couch.
It did not belong to him.
There was noise coming from the bedroom nearby. He crept over to the door. The sound of the bed creaking made his heart sink. The sound of euphoria that pelted his ear drums made him tighten his grip on the gun. To think he had nearly used it on himself, moments earlier. Before he even contemplated anything he had kicked the door open and nearly off its hinges.
It happened quickly, three shots rang out. His wife cried out in agony, her slim body flailing before collapsing in a heap on top of her lover. He now heard whimpering from beneath the sheet. He watched as she was carelessly pushed off the bed. It landed with a loud thump. The naked man stood up quickly, hands raised. He had soiled himself; yellow piss ran down his leg. A sickening smile spread across the killer’s face, the lover was pleading to be spared.
No, there would be no mercy. Not now.
Two more shots were fired, and the lover howled falling back against the wall, below him was a growing red pool. He slid down into a crouched position. A brief flicker of life in his eyes quickly snuffed out.
He dropped the gun and stepped backwards out of the bedroom. Never had he seen so much red. It plastered the bed sheets and wall. He felt his stomach churn but his mind savoured the sight before him. He turned around slowly and sat on the couch where the coffee table was. He picked up the stained glass and with iron in his eyes, downed it quickly. Leaning back he closed his eyes. Tasting her, savouring what was left.
The door opened then, he didn’t need to guess who it was. When he opened his eyes again, he noticed the beams of light cutting through the curtains and the different room layout. There was no coffee table in front of him, but in one of the corners was a chess table. That was where they sat; the Surgeon with his rotting skin, and Cecilia who remained always silent but forever smiling.
“I’ve known her for centuries and yet still I can’t beat her at chess.”
Cecilia tried to giggle but it came out like a deep, throaty cough.
“I killed my wife.”
“All part of the treatment.”
“I wanted to remove any potential sentimentality, this was the only way,” he said moving the knight towards its next victim, a lowly pawn. “So that when you make the choice, you will not waver, or falter or reconsider.” The stone knight came to life, and drove his sword through the defenceless pawn. “How can I not beat her? But this knight can destroy a pawn.”
“How do you know…?” he paused suddenly, the numbing feeling in his feet came back.
“I will ask again, what are you?”
The surgeon stood up and walked slowly towards him. He sat down; and greeted Adam with the horrifying stench of decay. “I am but one of its children. I aim to find perfection. But to do that, I needed someone who has nothing to live for. So that in their immortality. I will be able to strive closer and closer to the perfect human.”
“Is that what you are turning me into?”
Dr Laech attempted a smile, stood up and left. Cecilia soon shuffled after him. The game left unfinished. Of course it would be. As one single pawn remained.