Chapter 19

MARCH 31, 2015
7:45 P.M.
MERCY GENERAL HOSPITAL

The Tamiflu takes the edge off the fever, but Isaac’s dreams remain disconnected and erratic. There’s a whispering in his head, a tongue he recognizes from those dark days in the woods, humming white noise at the back of his mind.

He dreams he’s writing on himself, a story in symbols, an ancient text that fills his body with angry red slashes. His biological parents would recognize the language as Navajo, a subconscious imprint of their mixed dreams.

When he looks down he realizes he’s not writing at all, but carving the words into his skin. He’s bleeding out, his strength running in rivulets down his chest, his belly, leaving sticky trails of red between his thighs.

He wakes briefly, feeling sick to his stomach, but too weak to call for the nurse. Even if he could, he can’t remember her name.

Now he’s kissing Alice, his sweet Alice, but her flesh is melting, sticking to him like paste. She’s a skeleton, bony fingers drawing lines against the curve of his jaw, pressing cold hands against the wing of his shoulder blade until he’s frozen. Her face becomes her brother’s, and Isaac swings his fists against the other boy’s chest but it’s no use, Br’er Rabbit with his paws stuck in the tar baby.

He sees the face of his mother, except it’s not her—it has her shape, it whispers in her voice, but it’s only a shadow wearing her skin as a disguise. This part terrifies Isaac most, because there was a time when it wasn’t a dream at all.

“Mom! No!”

He twists and moans in the hospital bed, oblivious to the nurse, the cuff on his arm, the IV in the crook of his elbow.

Part of him knows that Mulder left, but now he’s standing beside his bed, reaching out to him, holding Isaac’s hand. The doc is there, somewhere out in the space between dreamworld and reality, and her voice rises above the chorus in his head. She’s thinking about something to do with the virus that ravages his body, but he can’t make sense of it in words, only pictures. He sees a glimpse of a vast underground cavern, mechanical wombs lined in dark, icy rows.

They’re coming. They’re already here.

They disappear, fading into twilight, and his mind goes quiet. He’s standing in a white, empty room. His aching head welcomes the abrupt silence, the echo of nothing.

Suddenly the ground shifts beneath him and he lurches forward on uncertain legs, as if on a boat in rough sea.

Or on a ship. A great, vast ship, hurtling through the darkness…

“Isaac.”

His head snaps around to meet his intruder, but the voice comes from everywhere and nowhere. It has no physical presence in its true form.

“Isaac.”

“Who’s there?”

“He can’t save you, Isaac.”

The boy peers into the blinding light, but there’s nothing to see. “Who are you?”

“Save yourself, Isaac. Give yourself to us. Come home.”

His skin crawls. The voice is disguised, like a face wearing a mask that’s meant to be human but falls short.

“Come home…”

Again, he pictures his mother in her life’s last moments, reaching out to him, pulling him into empty space. Suddenly he’s desperately, painfully afraid. He presses his back to the cold, white wall, gooseflesh rising on his arms.

“Come home,” the voice whispers, this time at the nape of his neck, causing Isaac to jump forward, flinging his body in a half-circle, breathing hard.

“No! Stop! No!”

His eyes fly open but he can’t see her; he can only see them. The shadows have been waiting, hiding behind his eyes, and tonight they’ve come for him. He can hear their horrible tongues in his head, the rising, cresting waves of their whispers crashing against his skull. He wails, flailing against them, trying to back away.

No! No no…

#

“Isaac! Hey, kiddo, wake up!”

He’s thrashing in the bed, the IV line has almost come out, and Eileen has her hands full trying to calm him.

“Isaac!”

She’s hovering over him, holding his shoulders, but she can’t get through. His breath is thready, panicked, eyes wide and dilated. His lips are blue-white at the edges.

He’ll have to fight for breath soon enough, she thinks, trying and failing to get a mask over his face. His hand falls against her shoulder, eyes rolling in his head, and a hum of energy at his palm sends her rocking backward. Stunned, she grasps at her shoulder.

What the…?

His body arches off the bed with a strangled cry, the strange shock temporarily forgotten as she tries once again to soothe his feverish flailing.

“C’mon…wake up!”

She heads for the nurse’s station, hoping to find something she can inject into his IV, wishing there were another doctor here to make the call; at the very least, another nurse to help restrain him.

Something mild, Eileen…don’t want to depress his lung function any more than it already is…

Isaac wails again, like a lost spirit haunting the children’s ward.

Night terrors, she thinks, remembering her own son, still at home, still in his bed…she pictures his face, one pink cheek pressed against the pillowcase, hair tousled with sleep, jaw slack. She followed the sounds of his terrified shrieks down the hall night after night for weeks. As many times as it happened, the sound of his screaming never failed to make her skin prickle.

Her hand shakes, fumbling the medicine, nearly stabbing herself with the uncapped needle.

He’d gone to bed earlier than his usual 7:30 bedtime, complaining of a sore throat…

A crash brings the memory to a halt, startling her from the precipice of the thing she isn’t supposed to think about. The syringe drops to the floor, skittering under a cabinet, forgotten.

“Shit,” she mutters, turning to find the boy on his feet, crying. Somehow he’s knocked over the IV. It trails limp and useless from the pole, and now he’s ripping at the tape in his arm.

She runs back to the desk, grabbing for a clean syringe. Isaac is screaming again, his rough voice echoing eerily in the hall, “No! Don’t let them! I don’t want to come home!”

Eileen, barely able to restrain him enough to steady the needle, pins him against the bed and drives the point into his upper thigh, depressing the plunger.

It takes several minutes of thrashing beneath her trembling arms for his screams to become whispered protests and hiccups. His breathing slows as she eases him back against the pillows.

Jesus. Another episode like that and he’ll kill himself before the infection does.

Her hands are shaking too hard to attempt the IV, and the smell of her own fear is cloying.

There’s a spray of blood on the floor, a few drops from where the line was ripped out. She finds a paper towel, wipes at the mess until the blood smears across the floor in a gruesome rainbow of red and pink. The sight of it makes her stomach turn, and she has a vision of black-red droplets on a tattered white blanket.

Oh, oh no…

She blinks back tears and turns her mind to cleaning. There’s an antibacterial wash in the closet, and she sets to work on the floor, scrubbing the tile under and around the bed on hands and knees until there’s no trace of blood. It shines unnaturally under the emergency lights, the rest of the floor dull in comparison.

So she continues washing as if in a trance, forward and back, forward and back, rocking with it until there’s nothing but the rhythm of the movements, the feeling of sweat stinging along her brow.

“There,” she says finally, groaning as she unlocks her body from the unnatural crouch. She surveys the room, hands on her hips, speaking to no one in particular. Her knees are raw, aching bone, but the pain is worth the peace. Cleaning keeps the other monsters at bay.

For now.

She turns to Isaac, adjusting his blanket, prepping his IV while her subconscious churns. She’s seen her fair share of patients in distress, but tonight she recognizes for the first time just how alone she is in this place. She should leave, go home to be with her son, but…

But I can’t, she thinks simply, not allowing herself to drift further into those recesses, for they are a dark and winding road.

He needs me here.

Her shoulder aches, and she rubs at it absently, wincing as her hand grazes the tender skin of her upper arm. She pulls up her sleeve to find a patch of crimson above the apex, just shy of blistering, in the shape of a handprint.

Burned. The kid burned me…

She’d been too preoccupied to think about it at the time, but now she examines her own body with growing worry, her flesh crawling with the heat of a small fire where he’d touched her.

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