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The Coercionist


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     My body seemed to know what it was doing long before my mind was fully awake. I was alone in a small hospital room, lying on a bed that faced the blank white wall. Leather restraints on my wrists and ankles kept me tethered to the bed, but they were loose enough to allow my torso to hang sideways off the edge. Something fluttered on the floor to my right. I struggled to reach it, throwing my head as far forward as it would go.
     It was a small moth, crawling on the ground. My stomach rumbled loudly and I realized that I was starving. At that moment, the moth looked more delicious than anything I had ever tasted. I lunged for the insect, my jaws dripping saliva onto the tiled floor. The metal bars of the bed rattled, a horrible crashing sound. I felt something fighting inside me, battling for control.
     The door burst open with a whoosh and slammed into the wall. I swung around, alarmed. I hadn’t even noticed the double doors on the left wall of the room.
     “Mr. Cardoza? How are you feeling? You were unconscious for a few days.” It was a male nurse, probably sent specifically to check on me. His hair was light brown and cut short, and his skin looked as though it hadn’t seen the sun in weeks. He was dressed in light blue scrubs and had a clipboard tucked under one arm. And he looked thoroughly bored with being assigned to me. But seeing the animal look in my eyes, he took a step back. “Steven? Are you okay?”
     “I’m a monkey,” I responded, confused. What kind of question was that?
     “Don’t be ridiculous, Steven,” he said, smiling nervously.
     “I’m a monkey,” I insisted, angry that he wasn’t listening.
     “One moment, please.”
     I nodded, pulling myself up onto the bed.
     The nurse returned to the hallway, and I could hear him talking to a doctor behind the door.
     “...patient seems delusional. Clearly suffering from brain damage.”
     “We reviewed all the tests. There's absolutely nothing wrong with him.”
     “But that’s not possible.”
     “The X-ray hasn't come back yet?”
     “I’ll get it to you in a few minutes.”
     They continued talking, moving further down the hallway and out of earshot. I caught one final word, "insane."
     I realized that they didn’t believe me. No one would ever believe me. I was a monkey. Whatever was inside me was getting stronger, fighting harder to gain control. But I was a monkey and I couldn’t let it win.
     “I need to get out of this bed,” I muttered to myself. But the straps were tight against my arms and legs. And then a strange feeling came over me. I doubled over and gripped the restraint in my teeth, ripping it from my arm, and pulled myself free. I leaped from the bed and ran to the door. The nurse was coming back down the hall, and I crouched low to the ground, hidden behind the door.
     The nurse came into the room, throwing on a fake smile. “Are you feeling better? You got quite the…” He trailed off, taking in the empty bed and the marks from my teeth that covered the end of the restraint that had held my arm in place. Catching site of me crouched next to the door, he let out a small shriek. “Doctor Harper!”
     The doctor came through the door. He carried the X-ray in one hand and was studying it with a concerned expression. “I really think you need to take a look at…” Doctor Harper glanced up from the X-ray and trailed off just as the nurse had. He took in the scene slowly, running a hand through his greasy black hair. “I’m not sure what’s going on here, but you really need to look at this X-ray.”
     The nurse gave Doctor Harper a bewildered stare. “That’s your priority right now?!”
     Doctor Harper sighed impatiently went back to studying the X-ray. “The patient seems to be under control at the moment. But this is purely impossible. The X-ray shows a large mass located near Mr. Cardoza’s brain. I did some additional testing on it, and they claim that the mass is living.”
     “Alive? Like some sort of parasite?”
     “No.” Doctor Harper shuffled the papers he was carrying behind the X-ray and consulted one of them before continuing. “We tested for parasites known to this area. All came back negative. In fact, from the limited information we have on the substance, we haven’t yet matched it to any known living organism. We may need to perform surgery to extract a sample of it.”
     “But a surgery like that could kill him.”
     “It would be a risky procedure, but-”
     “Listen to me,” I demanded, cutting him off. My voice caught in my throat and came out as a rasp.
     The nurse turned to look at me and threw a terrified glance at the doctor. Doctor Harper looked at the nurse with a disapproving expression and nodded for me to continue.
     “I’m a monkey…” I trailed off, realizing how it sounded, then continued in a burst. “I’m a monkey and there’s something evil inside of me. It surrounds me and I’m trapped in here.”
     “You’re not making sense, Steven,” the nurse said, trying to sound calm.
     “I’m a monkey,” I repeated for the last time. “No one understands it. But I am a monkey and I need to get out of here. Right now.”
     “Steven, you need to stay here. We can help you.”
     “They can’t help,” the voice whispered in my ear. “They’ll never believe. But I know what we need to do.”
     My body lunged for the middle of the room with shaky momentum, my legs moving on their own. They leaped for the door with a jerky motion that nearly sent me crashing into the wall. It was as though my body had been possessed by a toddler that hadn’t yet mastered the skill of walking. “STOP IT!” I screamed at the top of my lungs until my voice was hoarse. But the legs continued in their unpredictable manner, taking me further into the labyrinth of the hospital. At last I realized where we were headed. The demon had led me to the hospital’s kitchen. On the table was a knife block.
     Nothing was real except the two of us. And he needed to go. “Get out of my head!” I shouted, grabbing a knife off the counter with hands that were no longer mine. I didn’t fight the hands as they dragged the knife up into the air. We had the same goal at this point – this body had become my prison and I needed to get out.
     “Out, out, out,” I grunted as we took hold of the blade together and thrust it into my head, just above the right temple. Blood streamed down my forehead and into my eyes until nothing could penetrate the red veil that had descended upon my vision. But that wasn’t anything more than a minor inconvenience. The pain seemed to be on a delay and when it finally arrived, it came in waves that washed over me one at a time. Every round of pain was worse than the last, pulsing through me and draining all my strength away. A high pitched shriek filled the air. It could’ve been me. Or him. Maybe both of us were screaming. I sank to my knees and sprawled forward on the floor.
     The tiles were cool on my face, and the pain slipped away so quietly that its existence in the first place could’ve been debatable.
     His voice had quieted in my mind and I knew death had come at last. The blade of the knife had formed a gaping hole in the world above me. Light filtered in from the other side, an offer of freedom that I eagerly accepted. I stretched out, finally escaping the cage that had entombed me for so long. I looked down at the body and saw the blade still lodged in the forehead. I was free at last; the chains that had held me back for so long had suddenly broken.
     But I fell to the floor just as he had. Nothing moved in the silence except my tail, which twitched spastically on the floor for a few moments. And then that, too, was still.
     Footsteps rushed down the hall toward me but my vision was darkening and I knew they were too late.




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