by KEITH KENNEDY
t was rainy; the kind of day without expectations.
Steven pulled up to the hospital just past noon and left his car in the visitor's parking. After two flights of stairs, he decided to quit smoking. After three, he figured he should get back in shape.
Dr. Branson was nearby when he huffed his way onto the third floor landing.
"Hello Steven. My boy, you need to get in shape."
Steven smiled vaguely and fell into step beside the older man.
"It was fatherhood that got me in shape," the doctor said. "When I was a younger man, and had my first, Emily, someone told me I should be fit enough to be able to pick her up, and take her away from any danger. That, I took to heart."
"You may have just given me a good reason not to get in shape, Doctor," Steven said. "No kids yet."
Branson frowned and opened the door to the atrium, stepping aside so Steven could enter.
"It was raining when I left my car," Steven said, looking upward as he entered the room. The atrium was a rare sight; a huge, rectangular room with no roof whatsoever. The courtyard itself was composed of coarse sand, with a few delicate trees in the corners; the kind which always seemed sick or dying. In the wall across the way was another door which led to the more secure wing of the hospital. Steven thought of it as the crazy door, and had never been beyond its slick, white façade.
There were no other people in the atrium when Steven and Dr. Branson entered, just the rickety trees, smacking the walls playfully, sending quick snippets of code to the trees in the outside world.
"She'll be out in a moment, Steven. Edmond just went to retrieve her wing when the skies cleared," the doctor said.
Steven wrapped his arms around himself as the wind picked up and began swirling around the atrium. He should have been used to the effect by now, but it still gave him chills.
"Won't they be cold?" he asked the doctor.
Branson just laughed. "You know how many times you've asked me that? They're fine, Steven. They're just happy to be out. Besides, they've endured things we can't even imagine, trapped in their minds, cut off from their lives, their loved ones. A little wind hardly touches them."
Steven tried not to make conversation as they stood, waiting, but the silence bothered him, especially in this place.
"Anyone new?" he asked.
"Why yes, funny you should ask," Branson said, a queer look on his face. "A youngish woman, by the name of Emily, same as my daughter. She came about six days ago, I think." Branson looked down at the clipboard in his hand, thumbed through the first few pages and gave up. "About that, anyway. She's lovely, this one. Cropped, chestnut hair, big brackish eyes and an amazing carriage. But mute, poor thing. We're not sure how to assess her other than that. The other care she's had up to this point has been shoddy and there's no real diagnosis as of yet."
Steven watched the crazy door, arms crossed before him. "Probably a schizo. Aren't they all, in one way or another?"
Branson looked over at Steven with false scorn. "I don't think they'd appreciate the term, but yes, I suppose that diagnosis does apply to a high percentage of the patients here. Paranoid Schizophrenic is a bit of a catch-all."
"Like Irritable Bowel Syndrome?" Steven said.
Branson smirked. "I’m sure I wouldn't know. I'm the one in good health, remember?" The doctor smacked Steven on the shoulder with his clipboard and the men shared a brief laugh. They became more somber as the crazy door across the way opened with a blood freezing series of creaks and groans.
The orderly stepped through and held the door for a flood of white-gowned crazies. After about fifteen or so patients, two women emerged, following shortly behind the rest.
Steven stepped forward as he always did, hands flexing, expecting to be recognized. Some days, good days, he was. As of yet, neither of the women had looked up.
The one on the left was clearly Emily; the woman Dr. Branson had said was a new patient. Her bobbed hair was thick and gorgeous, her lips deep red, and her eyes huge and dark, almost like the women in Japanese cartoons. For a moment, Steven had a vision of the woman in schoolgirl attire, flashing simple white panties, and shook his head to chase the thought away. He looked back, and saw, for just a split second, those eyes looking up at him, and he felt his heart leap and shrivel at once. Emily looked away as quickly as she had looked up, and he took the opportunity to examine the rest of her. She was, by all definitions, a beautiful young woman. Her breasts, slightly small for her body, had become perversely outlined by her gown due to the gusting wind. Steven could see every contour, every dip and incline of her chest, though sadly, not the nipples. He began to turn his head involuntarily, trying to catch a glimpse of anything darker, or god help him, pinker, beneath her gown, when the woman beside Emily came to life.
"Steven!" she said, breaking away from her companion. Steven arrested his perusal of the new girl's body, feeling slightly caught in the act, and reached out to embrace the woman now rushing toward him.
"Hi, baby," he said, nuzzling into the coarse, yellowed hair at his wife's shoulder. "How are you today?" he asked, pushing her back to arm's length. She looked good, but by contrast to her new friend, she was barely human.
Sarah had been beautiful once. Perhaps not universally or classically so, but petite, delicate and vibrant; altogether pleasant to look at if not a little sharp in the features. But the breakdown had hurt her vibrancy, and the drugs and treatments over the years had left her haggard. Behind her narrow, green eyes, there was still a spark of who she had been, who she might yet again become, but beyond that, there was not much left of the woman he had fallen in love with.
Sarah turned to Dr. Branson, offering him a smile and a light touch on the arm. Steven looked over Sarah's shoulder at the new woman, Emily with the big cartoon eyes, and saw those black, deep pits staring right back at him. Emily's lips, a little bit parted and a little too red, seemed to be seeking his own and he felt an uncomfortable longing to hold her and possess her completely.
But Sarah, always Sarah, was there. Not just in his mind as when he spent his long nights alone, but now, before him, her straw hair and scarecrow figure, reminding him with her sheer existence of the vows and promises he had made.
He hugged her again, and tried to make it feel real.
"Pretty girls are innocent in the eyes of men."
The doctor laughed under his breath. "That was quite the once over you gave the new girl, Steven."
"Ah, shit. Do you think Sarah noticed?" Steven asked.
"I doubt it."
The men walked the length of the corridor, then stopped at the stairs.
"What was she doing with that group in the corner?" Steven asked.
The doctor smiled. "We think she was in the theatre, before. Maybe even a teacher. Though she won't speak, she has the other patients doing, what would you call them, funny exercises."
"Like theatre games?" Steven said.
"As I said, I don't know what you'd call them. But they make faces. She does it, then they follow her lead, imitate her. It's really quite adorable," Branson said.
"I didn't get a chance to watch, Sarah was really cognizant today," Steven said.
"Yes," Branson said, his face becoming more serious. "Yes she was, Steven. And I don't want to get any hopes up just yet, but that could be a very, very good thing."
"Thanks, Doctor. That's good news."
"Maybe." Steven patted the doctor on the shoulder and turned to make his way down the stairs, trying to think of Sarah's face, not Emily's.
"Oh, Steven?" Branson said. Steven turned back and Branson had put his hands up to the sides of his head with his fingers curled into claws. The doctor scrunched up his face and growled.
Steven just stared.
"Lion face," the doctor said laughing. He turned away leaving Steven alone in the stairwell.
Steven exited into the blustery street. A man dressed like a janitor was raking leaves, though it was a fight he was surely going to lose. A single bird, a crow, flew above the building, circling madly near the wind tunnel created by the atrium.
Steven drove home amid the bleakness.
He hated the drive. Going home to his empty apartment was always hard, but it was worst when he was leaving the hospital, having just seen the specter of his past. He wished he had home videos, like in a Hollywood movie, where the protagonist sits and watches the beauty of his former life. Videos of the good times, the weddings and the birthdays; those amazing close-ups of the beautiful wife, smiling shyly in direct contrast with his lost love.
But there were no videos, no pictures, only shaded memories and little hope. But he drove and tried to think of other things. Of course, the other things were now spiked with the shapes and colors of Emily.
He decided he would have a drink. That seemed to work in movies.
Steven sat on the bench and watched, arms held tight against the atrium's inherent chill.
In the corner, Emily had a class of about a dozen now. When she did the sad face, her eyes opened wide, and her mouth became small. The others followed suit. When she did the happy face, her eyes grew narrow, but her mouth became wide. The others mimicked. When she did the lion face, her eyes and mouth both became wide, as did the eyes and mouths of the others.
Entranced, Steven barely heard his wife's voice as she spoke to him. She was lucid again, and that was important, he knew, but he couldn't break his attention away from Emily. Every flitter and adjustment of her face was magical. There was so much expression in her features, so much in the features of the others, and yet here they were, trapped in body, and more importantly, trapped in their own minds. How then, was she helping them express such sadness and happiness on their faces?
He snapped back, seeing genuine concern on Sarah's face.
"Well, what do you think?"
"Yea, it sounds good."
Sarah looked dejected. "You're not listening to me, are you?"
The importance of his neglect slammed home with full force. His entire purpose, for a long time now, had been to be there for her, show support, encourage her out of her shell. And here she was, improving, trying, and he was failing her entirely.
Steven took her hands in his. "I’m so sorry, Sarah, my mind was wandering, that's all. Please, tell me again." He forced himself to look into her grayed eyes, searching for focus. She smiled a little and continued speaking.
Before long, he found himself looking beyond her once more.
Sad face, happy face, lion face.
"They've become friends, I think," Dr. Branson said.
Steven turned, shaken from his thoughts.
"You were thinking about her, weren't you?" the doctor asked.
Steven tried to act like he didn't understand what was being asked of him, but gave up and bowed his head. "Yes. I find Emily mesmerizing."
"No, Steven, you find her different, that’s all. And Sarah needs you now."
"I know, I know."
"Plus, as I said, they've become friends," Branson said. "And if, cross your fingers, Sarah continues to improve at this pace, you may have a life with her again. You don't want to be lusting after her friends when that happens, do you?"
"Lusting?" Steven said. "I wouldn't go that far, Doctor."
"How far you would go is exactly what I'm talking about."
Steven shook his head. "You say they're friends?"
"Yes, I suppose, in a way, Emily is everyone's friend, but I see her with Sarah quite often."
"But Sarah doesn't do her silly theatre games," Steven said.
"Oh, doesn't she?" Branson said, raising an eyebrow. "Just because she has the courtesy of giving you her undivided attention when you're here, does not mean she doesn't have her fun when you’re not around. In fact, I must say it's quite nice seeing her make the happy face."
"Really? I can't picture Sarah playing foolish games," Steven said.
Branson lowered his clipboard and looked back down the hallway. "There was a time, my boy, when you wouldn't have pictured her inside a mental institution either."
Branson smiled. "I mean no harm, but, you know, tough love is love after all."
Steven formed a sarcastic smile. "Thanks, Doctor."
At home that night, sitting before a late night talk show with a beer in hand, Steven tried to picture Sarah making the sad face, the happy face, the lion face. But all he could come up with was her pale skin, empty eyes, straw hair and no expression at all. No matter how much better she seemed to be getting, she was bleakness compared to Emily's sensuality.
He gave up trying to be a good husband and thought about Emily. Thought about her red lips, her porcelain skin and her night dark eyes until he could finally sleep.
"She frightens me," Sarah said.
"What was that?"
Sarah turned and looked over her shoulder. Emily was playing her theatre games with with more than fifteen of the patients.
"Emily frightens me. Does she frighten you as well?" Sarah asked.
"No, why would she frighten me?"
"You're always watching her."
Steven squirmed. "No, no, I was just looking off into the distance."
Sarah made a wry face, then turned back to Emily's group. "She talks to me at night, tells me things, but I don't remember them in the morning. When I try to remember, it's like flashes from a bad dream."
"I thought you two were friends," Steven said.
Sarah shuddered. "Friends? I'm not sure I even know what that word means anymore. Ever since this place, I seem to have lost all my friends."
"Dr. Branson seems to think she's helping you, that since Emily showed up, you've been improving," Steven said.
"The Doctor thinks Emily's helping everyone," Sarah said. She reached out and grabbed Steven's hand. "I wish I could remember what she says to me at night."
Steven stopped Dr. Branson in the hallway.
"What is it, Steven, you look displeased?" the doctor said.
"I think there's a problem with Sarah. I think maybe she's relapsing, or something.
"What, what is it?"
"It's about the mute girl, about Emily," Steven said. "Sarah thinks she's talking to her. Says Emily talks to her at night."
"Oh my," Branson exclaimed, looking down at his clipboard. "That does sound delusional, not in line at all with Sarah's other symptoms." Abruptly, Branson stopped looking through the pages. "I suppose it's possible that Emily is not mute, and only feels comfortable speaking with Sarah."
"You're saying you got it wrong, that she can speak?" Steven said.
"Maybe. We are none of us perfect, Steven."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Branson looked away, breathing deeply. "You smell like booze, Steven."
"Just take care of my wife, alright?" Steven said, frustration spilling out.
"I just need to know you're okay," Branson said.
"You aren't my goddamn doctor."
"No, but I am responsible for the welfare of my patient, and I can't let you harm her progress."
"Harm her progress? Harm her progress? I'm the only one in the fucking world who gives a shit about her!" Steven said.
"Please calm down," Branson said, reaching out with his hand.
"Keep your hands off me. Just watch her, alright? Watch Emily. Sarah is scared, get it? Scared of her," Steven said.
Branson looked back into his clipboard. "Scared? Did she tell you that? That's even more troubling, a recurrence of paranoia."
"I don't think it's fake, or delusional or whatever you call it. She seemed genuinely frightened."
"You let me decide what's genuine, Steven," Branson said, spinning on his heel and leaving Steven alone in the hallway.
Steven balled his fist in frustration. He did a half turn as if to leave, then let out his breath in a huge gust and allowed his fingers to relax. He made his way back to the atrium and looked inside.
Everyone, including Sarah, was in the far corner, huddled before Emily. Steven watched closely as they performed their strange game of mimicry. Sad face, sad face. Happy face, happy face. Lion face, lion face. He heard some of them growl along with the lion face and felt his heart lighten a little.
Then, a new face. Only a few followed suit at first, the others looking confused, unsure of what to do. Emily's neck and shoulders had gone limp. Her head, tilted to nearly rest on her shoulder, seemed too heavy to hold up and her arms hung at her sides as if paralyzed. Her eyes were open, but now glassy and empty. Her mouth hung slack in silent terror, as if she'd seen something horrific but had not the energy to cry out properly. It was simply the mouth of one whose jaw had fallen wide open and could not be closed.
It was as if someone had cut her strings.
Then, more of them began to follow suit. The strings of each patient, cut one after another. Eyes glossing over, arms becoming limp, mouths gaping. Faces slack jawed with no emotion. One after another.
And then Sarah as well, with her scarecrow hair and empty eyes.
And as quick as it had started, it was over. All the patients, once again upright and lucid, began filing toward the door.
Emily was as beautiful and vibrant as before. Her dark eyes holding mystery, her red lips, promise.
Steven realized, too late, that Emily was looking at him, and had seen him looking at her. He turned away, caught in the act, but turned back again just as quickly. She was no longer watching him as she followed the other patients out of the atrium.
"Oh, yes, the new one. Very creative, that Emily. I call it doll face," Dr. Branson said, smiling.
"It's terrible, horrifying."
"Oh, don't be silly."
Today, there had been twenty people, every one of the patients let into the atrium that day, in Emily's group. When they had done doll face, and each patient followed in turn, Steven had fled the area.
"Even Sarah's involved now," he told the doctor.
"As I said, she always was, Steven, just not when you were here."
"Then what's changed?" Steven asked.
"I'm not sure," Branson said, clearly pensive. "I've not yet heard Emily speak, so I am afraid these episodes of conversation are in Sarah's mind."
"Which could be a sign of some sort of regression?"
"Perhaps, perhaps. We'll just have to keep an eye on it."
Steven could hardly sleep that night. The sensual image of Emily had been replaced with the doll face, eyes empty, mouth agape. He tried to think of Sarah instead, but there she was, void of life as well.
He sat in front of the television instead, visions of weddings and birthdays, all attended by slack jawed, emotionless people, wearing white gowns and silent screams.
"Dr. Branson said I shouldn't go near her for a little while, but I feel like she's watching me," Sarah said.
Steven sighed. Sarah was lucid again today and Steven was grateful. "Watching you?"
"Yea, I know it sounds crazy," Sarah said.
"We're not supposed to use that word."
Steven sighed again. "I'm really glad you're doing well again. When I saw you making that doll face the other day, it scared me."
"The what?" Sarah asked
"The doll face."
Sarah looked perplexed. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Steven looked over her shoulder. Thirty people in the atrium. All except Sarah playing the games. "I didn't even think there were that many people in your wing."
Sarah followed Steven's eyes. "There isn't. Dr. Branson is letting more people out to play with her now."
Later, when he was leaving, Steven saw three other doll faces in the corridor. Patients, barely moving, heads tilted. Their eyes blank and their mouths wide.
It was as if the condition was spreading.
Steven sat in Branson's office, across from the old doctor.
"I think it's time I took her home."
Dr. Branson laughed mirthlessly. "Are you out of your mind, Steven? She just started showing improvement, you can't take her now."
"No, she showed rapid improvement, which then became impeded by that doll woman. She can't avoid Emily forever, Doctor. I need to get her out of here."
"Listen to yourself," Branson said. "You're sounding like a paranoid, now. Emily isn't hurting anyone, especially not Sarah. It isn't Emily's fault if Sarah thinks she's talking to her."
"I've seen fifty or more doll faces in here today, Dr. Branson. It's beginning to look like a cemetery spilled into the hallways. There's no way someone can get better under these conditions."
"Stop. Stop this right now," Branson said, standing up from his chair. "These games are only helping the patients be more outgoing."
"Really? Why then am I seeing no happy faces or lion faces in the goddamn halls?" Steven said, rising from his chair as well.
"You should go, Steven."
"I’m taking her out of here."
"You can't," Branson said.
"No, I can. I've looked into it," Steven said. "I know our rights here."
"But what about the drinking Steven," Branson whispered.
"What? Are you threatening me?"
"I know your rights too, Steven," Branson said, returning to his chair. "She needs to be released into stable custody. I can testify against that."
"You bastard. She's my wife."
"And she's my patient. I look after her every single day." Branson smiled. "Doctor knows best."
Steven didn't drink that night. He paced, trying to figure a way out of his predicament. He knew he had to get Sarah away from Emily. The dark-haired woman was doing something, casting a spell on all of them, like she had cast a spell on him. Even now, after seeing the doll face, he still lusted after her. It was wrong, all wrong and he had to get Sarah out.
After considering his options through the night, the only thing he could think to do was return to the doctor and plead for her release.
In the morning, he drove to the hospital and parked in the usual area. He entered into the lobby and barely noticed that the desk clerk wasn't there.
He stopped his ascent in the second floor stairwell. The hallway was filled with patients, all of them moving about aimlessly. All of them trapped in doll face, necks and arms limp. The cacophonous quiet of their screams was somehow tangible in the air of the hospital, as if he could feel the people yelling in silent horror.
The third floor was the same. People, seeing nothing, going nowhere, terrified by something unknown, something Steven couldn't see or understand. He made his way through by touch and gentle push, trying not to look into their aimless eyes, feeling their warm breath caressing him from their wide mouths.
The atrium was empty, but the door to Sarah's wing was wide. Steven dashed across the windswept courtyard and through into the hallway beyond. When he arrived, he closed the door behind him, shutting out the sounds of the wind and the whispered yet loud sounds of the patients scuffling feet. For a moment, he thought the wing was silent, but then he heard a voice, soft and sweet coming from down the hall.
At first he thought the voice too far away to be understood, but as he moved toward it, he realized the voice was not saying words, only things. Distant, still things that were not supposed to be heard by living people. Things that made him cringe and want to flee back into the world, away from this horrid place with its army of limp, mindless ghosts.
At the end of the hall, he turned into the room where the voice was coming from. She was there, Emily, sitting on a bed, back facing the door. Before her stood a dozen of the patients, all dolls, listening to the things that Emily said. As he watched, he saw blood begin to pour from their ears, running down their jawbones and coursing under the crimson shapes of their wide mouths. Before the blood could spill onto their white gowns, Steven was running back the way he had come.
In the hallway, the ears of the others were beginning to bleed as the things from Emily's mouth began to permeate the thick, cement walls of the building. They were not loud, these things from Emily, but they slid through and around everything, coating the place in atrocity.
No longer gentle, Steven fought his way through the crowd toward Dr. Branson's office. He heard himself screaming aloud now, yelling Sarah's name over and over. Trying to locate her, but also trying to drown out Emily's whisper.
He arrived at Branson's office and burst through the door. Inside, seated in Branson's chair, was Sarah. Her head was tilted, her mouth agape. Behind her, Branson stood with a hairbrush in his outstretched hand. He looked up to see Steven, then went back to the task of brushing Sarah's hair.
"What are you doing?" Steven yelled.
"Oh, relax, I took her away from them, didn't I?" Branson said without looking up. "I wanted her to look good for you," he said, smiling.
"Get away from her!"
Branson gripped the brush tightly. "You still want to take her away from me, don't you?"
Steven stepped toward Branson with as much menace as he could conjure. "She's my wife."
Branson smiled and continued to brush Sarah's hair. From a pocket in his jacket he removed a full syringe and laid in on the table beside Sarah's arm. "You know, my daughter Emily? You never asked about her. She died here. In the elevator shaft. Can you believe that? She was still a little girl and her mother had gone away for the week, and so I had Emily here with me. I let her have free reign, I figured it could do no harm, but the little devil managed to find her way into the elevator shaft and got stuck. She died in there long before we found her. And I could tell, Steven, by the look on her face, that she had been screaming bloody murder, just howling to no end until she couldn't make another noise. She was so lifeless when we found her."
"Like a doll," Steven said.
"Perhaps. You can imagine how surprised and delighted I was when our new Emily came into our lives. A blessing, wouldn’t you agree?"
"Please, Doctor, I need to take Sarah away from here," Steven said, stepping forward again.
"Ah-ah, Steven," Branson said, coyly reaching for the syringe.
"What's in that?" Steven asked.
"Death, my boy, what do you think?" Branson said. He laughed, a terrible, grating sound of release and torment. Beneath the horrendous noise, Steven could hear the horrible musings of Emily soaking through the walls toward him. Branson tilted his head, listening hard, taken for the moment by Emily's song.
Sarah's ears began to leak crimson blood.
Steven crouched and looked at her, trying to catch her empty eyes in his. And there it was, that spark, that thing that said she was there, that light that had given him hope for years that someday, she would emerge again. Slowly, she focused on him and her head started to right itself, slowly rising from her shoulder.
"Yes," Steven whispered.
Sarah's mouth closed and her eyes came into focus. She reached out, grabbing the arms of the chair. Before Branson had time to react she pushed the chair backwards – jamming him momentarily into the window – and scrambled to her feet. She stumbled around the desk toward Steven as Branson squirmed from behind the chair. Steven acted fast, lunging forward and pressing all of his weight against the desk, further encumbering the doctor's passage. He turned, took Sarah by the hand, and fled into the hallway.
The patients were deathly still. They were facing the door to the atrium, blood covering the fronts of their gowns as their ears bled profusely. Steven and Sarah kept moving, but Emily emerged before they could get far.
She moved into the hallway and the patients cleared a path. She was no longer speaking, her neck and arms limp. Her mouth was open and wide, her bright red lips giving off the sick impression of amusement. Her eyes had sunken and seemed completely black, their glossy surface reflecting the white halls around her.
To Steven, she no longer seemed alive at all. Her hair, once lustrous, was now the strange, dark sheen of artificial hair. Her body was nondescript; proportionate, but uninviting, like a facsimile of a real woman.
Suddenly, her neck jerked, and her head changed sides. Her gaping mouth, bordered by red lips, seemed to laugh at the motion.
Steven and Sarah took a step back
From behind them, Branson careened from his office, syringe in hand, ready for attack. Steven and Sarah were about to move out of his path, when he stopped. He had locked eyes on the doll woman.
Slowly he lowered the syringe, tears beginning to well up in his eyes. He smiled wide and real and looked about to speak. Before he could, his ears began to bleed and his mouth opened wider and wider. For a moment, his eyes showed panic, just before they became empty. His head collapsed to the side and his arms and shoulders became slack.
Steven watched it all, still trying to keep one eye on Emily. She was moving toward Branson with no effort, almost gliding along the floor. Steven pushed Sarah backward, clearing the way. When Emily had passed he slowly moved toward the stairwell, trying to creep, to not be noticed, hauling Sarah silently along.
Suddenly and without warning, Emily's voice rose, louder than before. Just as she reached Branson, there was a terrible sound, like a gigantic membrane tearing asunder, and all the patients wailed as one, finally finding the voice to express their terror.
Sarah put her hand to her mouth, trying to keep the wails in, her eyes blinking away the tears, her ears finally beginning to trickle blood. Steven turned back one last time and saw Dr. Branson moving, clearly fighting the paralysis that had overtaken him. Somehow, he found the strength to raise the syringe, and plunge it into Emily's chest. Steven picked up his wife, holding her like a child, and fled down the stairs.
He cleared the steps two at a time, somehow finding the strength to carry the woman he loved out of the hell around them. The sounds were deafening, the cries of the people and finally the scream, deep and guttural, from the throat of Emily as she made her final attempt at inflicting whatever evil was inside her onto those around her.
Steven and Sarah burst through the front doors and into the blessed silence of the street. He held Sarah tightly to him and felt her relax into unconsciousness in his arms.
Steven bought a video camera and decided to make some happy memories. One night, not long after the final days at the hospital, he was watching Sarah sleep and decided to get the camera. When he came back into the room, she had rolled over. Her mouth was open, and her arms were positioned before her as if the life had been suddenly taken from her body. Her eyes were closed but he was sure that beneath them they were completely lifeless, if not black. He dropped the camera and when it crashed to the ground, Sarah woke up, and instead of lifelessness, there was fear in her eyes. Steven felt his heart rise and he started to laugh.
"What the hell? What's going on, Steven?"
"I’m sorry, I'm so sorry I scared you," he said, still laughing.
"You scared the crap out of me, my heart is racing," Sarah said.
"Good. That's how you know you're alive," Steven said and jumped into bed beside his beautiful wife.
"I guess we don't need a camera anyway," she said as he pushed her golden hair from her face.
"Not for this," he said and dragged the woman he loved beneath the covers.
Keith Kennedy has published short fiction in Nocturnal Ooze, Midnight Times, Aurora Wolf, Anotherealm, Bete Noire, the Aurora Rising Anthology, Zenfri's Warpaint Anthology, Fantastic Frontiers, OneTitle Magazine, Boxfire Press's Heroics and has pending publications at Nameless Mag and Space Adventure Magazine. He has published poetry in Niteblade, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly (on two separate occasions), Kindling, the Poetic Pinup Revue (on multiple occasions), A Handful of Stones, Bareback Lit and Randomly Accessed Poetics with future publications at Chrysalis Zine and Hitherto Literary Journal. Keith has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Rhysling Award, and was published in the SFPA's anthology of the best poetry of the year. He also has an optioned screenplay with the Gemini Award winning Ferns Productions. Keith's story Black Dog appears in the April 2013 issue of HelloHorror.
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