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It was incredibly muggy. The air was too thick and steamy for words and carried the slight stench of decay. I opened my eyes. Flies were everywhere: lazily buzzing in circles, landing on leaves slick with moisture, not really doing much of anything. I sat on the bank of a shallow, muddy pond and absently swirled a stick through its murky waters. I shook my head, dislodging a black cloud of flies that floated into the air for a moment, only to settle back down again. Sighing, I peeled my shirt away from my sweaty back. I stood up, stretched, and studied my surroundings. Suddenly, I flung my stick into a patch of dried brown cattails. They rustled as if in an invisible breeze and a little dull green frog hopped out. Then all was still and oppressive and lifeless once again.
I turned away and started walking. My mind was totally blank; I had no idea where I was going. I just walked. I could feel the brittle yellowish grass and the parched soil crunch under my bare feet. A storm of flies followed me as I waded through a small sea of dead wildflowers. I suddenly noticed that it was dusk. A chartreuse sun making its way to the horizon through hazy clouds caused the sky to glow with a sickly light. With this observation, I also realized that I wasn’t sure exactly when I had started walking. I horrible, nameless fear began gnawing at me. Why did I come here? The fear started to bite harder, its sharp teeth digging into my flesh. Where had I come from? The sun began to descend into the horizon, like it was sinking into a pool of black tar. Who was I? The fear reached up and grabbed my throat just as the last stringy rays of light submitted to darkness. I was drowning in an ocean of dirty, black water. The fear became a terror and I screamed, desperately trying to loosen its death-grip. It only clamped down harder. I began to run blindly into the grimy darkness. My feet numbly beat the ground with a frenzied cadence and my lungs blazed. I was completely driven by that unidentifiable terror and banished all other coherent thoughts from my mind as I madly raced nowhere. I tripped and skidded across the gritty earth, but I felt no pain.
Suddenly I was blinded by a white light. I froze, held fast to the ground as if by some enormous magnet. I heard slamming, metal on metal, and two men’s voices. Though I couldn’t wrap my mind around their words, I sensed an urgentness about them. There was a muffled click, a brief woosh, and a sharp prick in my neck. I gasped as the world abruptly collapsed in on itself. The ground smacked against my knees. The white light faded to a dim glow and went out.
I was lying on my back, hurtling forward through a starched white tunnel. Brightly colored shapes whizzed by me. It was like doing the skeleton on multicolored ice. I couldn’t move, but I wasn’t sure if I was tied down. Distorted snatches of conversation wafted around me. “Found…” “Sudden relapse…” “Progress was…” “Which room…” “Easy now…” The kaleidoscope of voices made my head ache with something I couldn’t place. I lay on my stiff sled and tried to concentrate. It was so hauntingly familiar: the sequence, the timing of it all. But familiar from what? I knew what it was… I just knew it. I struggled to brush the cobwebs out of my mind. Maybe I—just then, a huge face loomed over me. I started and tried to cry out, but my throat was swollen and sore and all I could force out was a strangled croak.
“It’s okay,” the voice said soothingly, “Try to relax.” I was aware of my body being pushed and prodded and poked in different directions. The face receded from my sight and began reading off a series of meaningless numbers. I had just recovered from the shock when I saw a pair of hands holding an impossibly long hypodermic needle. The needle advanced toward me. A single drop fell from the end and blackness enveloped me once again.
He regarded me over steepled fingers. His dull, watery eyes met mine. I quickly dropped my gaze and studied the rest of him. Everything about him was gray: his skin, hair—even his eyes—were a sickly shade of ash. I couldn’t tell if it was natural or the result of the fluorescent light’s harsh glow. I sighed.
The haunting feeling still clung to me, just out of reach behind a hazy veil of memories. I desperately tried again to push the shadowy curtain aside and put my finger on the connection; why the events were so familiar. It bothered me much more than it should have. I had a feeling that it was important. But why? I could find no answers.
I focused again on the man sitting opposite me. His skin was so thin it was nearly transparent. I traced a long, thin vein winding around his head like a throbbing blue snake. Under his large hooked nose, his lips were stretched in a straight line, slightly pinched in the corners. He appeared to be attempting to smile. It wasn’t very convincing.
He drew in a big breath of air. I braced myself for his next words but he merely released a long, heavy sigh and continued to watch me from under paper eyelids. I wondered briefly if he was waiting for me to speak, then decided I didn’t really care. Time dragged on. There wasn’t even the monotonous ticking clock or buzzing insect in the background, just unbroken silence. It was a restless, uncomfortable silence. I shifted on the green vinyl couch, making it squeak and groan in protest. The sudden noise made him snap out of the trance he had fallen into.
“Do you have anything to tell me?”
I shook my head silently. With each unanswerable question, I beat my head harder against the solid mental-block of my own construction. Outwardly, I shook my head in answer. He flared his nostrils and straightened an already perfect stack of papers on his desk. I ran my eye idly over the numerous certificates behind him. I couldn’t read the tiny script from where I was. I wondered vaguely what they said. All of a sudden, he looked straight at me, unblinking, and said clearly:
“Do you remember this?”
My whole body involuntarily twitched. He couldn’t know what I had been thinking. He couldn’t. It was impossible. Impossible! My breath was coming quickly, in short, staccato gasps. Then why did he ask that? It didn’t seem like a routine question; there was too much meaning in his voice. Maybe he didn’t know. Maybe it truly was a probing question. I forced the waver out of my voice and willed my eyes upward to his even gaze.
He smiled dryly. His eyes glinted with a knowing look that froze my wheeling brain in its tracks. I stared at him, unable to move. How did he know? Did somebody tell him, or did he just guess? My thoughts raced around madly, running and bumping into each other. It was if he had read my mind! With just one glance, he had gotten into my head, analyzed my every thought, and spit them back out at me. How did he do that? And, even more frightening, what else did he know? My crazed fear gave way to curiosity. Maybe he could tell me why everything feels like I’ve done it before. What if he could show me what’s on the other side of that wall that has exasperated me much more than it should have? I began to grow excited. Could this dried-out man actually solve the problem that I had been completely obsessed with right now? I looked at him, feeling almost hopeful.
How could I put into words without sounding utterly insane? Unless…
He appeared to sense my frustration.
“Start at the beginning and tell me everything. Describe what you are seeing, hearing, feeling, and even tasting. Leave out no detail.”
I sat up and swung my legs around the side of the couch. Playing with the ties of my gown, I began to speak. My voice sounded oddly detached. I kept going, feeling the scene become more real as the room faded away. I decided I would tell all.
“It was incredibly muggy. The air was too thick and steamy for words and carried the slight stench of decay. I opened my eyes. Flies were everywhere…”