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Authors: Brian Kirk

Tags: #horror;asylum;psychological

We Are Monsters

BOOK: We Are Monsters
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The Apocalypse has come to the Sugar Hill mental asylum.

He's the hospital's newest, and most notorious, patient—a paranoid schizophrenic who sees humanity's dark side.

Luckily he's in good hands. Dr. Eli Alpert has a talent for healing tortured souls. And his protégé is working on a cure for schizophrenia, a drug that returns patients to their former selves. But unforeseen side effects are starting to emerge. Forcing prior traumas to the surface. Setting inner demons free.

Monsters have been unleashed inside the Sugar Hill mental asylum. They don't have fangs or claws. They look just like you or me.

We Are Monsters

Brian Kirk

Dedication

For Anne, who helps quiet the voices in my head.

Part One

Experimental Madness

Chapter One

No matter how many times he saw the syringe, the needle always looked too long. Too menacing. Less like an instrument of healing than one of pain. Another crude tool, in a long line of others, created to manipulate the human mind. And attempt to make it sane.

Dr. Drexler dipped the needle into a small vial labeled in his indecipherable scrawl and filled the syringe. He pulled it out and held it up, driving aside fleeting memories of prior failures, and consulted the imaging screen revealing the anatomy of the patient's brain. He prepped the needle, dispersing air bubbles that could easily cause an aneurism, and then placed its beveled tip between the man's eye and the bridge of his nose, just above the tear duct. He paused, held his breath, then pushed the needle through.

The patient, strapped to the examination table with thick leather bands, issued a solitary protest—“Get your Christing hot pocket off my hand”—then fell silent. It was the most coherent phrase he'd uttered all day.

Alex Drexler watched the needle emerge on the monitor screen, traversing the trillions of neurons that comprise our personalities, our speech patterns, our smiles, gliding towards the rice-sized gland in the center of the brain—the nexus of perception, the third eye. The needle bumped against the target's side, and he hissed through pursed lips—this is when his hands were wont to shake—then pierced the pineal gland and depressed the plunger.

Fortune favors the bold,
he thought. Followed by,
Christ, I hope this works.

He withdrew the needle and set it down on the instrument tray. A drop of blood ballooned from the wound, which Alex captured with a cotton ball, applying pressure with his thumb until it clotted. He removed the scanning device from the crown of Mr. Connelly's head and set it aside. Then, he waited, standing and pacing the cramped confines of the claustrophobic operating room, trying to keep his mind from considering the implications should the experiment fail. Again.

The man began to stir. Alex forced himself to walk slowly to his side, conducting the diagnostics check with forced composure. The man's vitals were strong, his breathing even. He waited sixty seconds and checked the man's eyes. Minimal dilation.

Good, good.

He glanced over his shoulder and gave the okay to the stout man standing behind the reinforced window, the R&D Director for Philax Pharmaceuticals. The man's terse nod might have been a sign of approval, or it might have meant “no, this proves nothing”. Given his stern expression, it was difficult to decipher the subtle gesture. This was their fifth patient and Philax was losing patience.

Alex turned back to his test subject.

“Mr. Connelly?” he said, then paused and waited. Ten seconds passed and he said it again, this time in his most soothing bedside tone, “Mr. Connelly?”

The man's eyes rolled in their sockets and his lids fluttered. He frowned, muttering something unintelligible, and then his mouth sprang open so wide Alex feared it would pop at the hinge. He rocked from side to side, gurgling through his gaping mouth, and then stretched taut against the table, corded tendons rippling the skin of his extended neck. He convulsed, once, twice, the examination table rattling in the silent room, and then he stopped and lay still.

Seconds passed before he stirred again. Then, dazed, he raised and shook his head, and fixed his eyes on Dr. Drexler. He tried to sit up, but rebounded against the heavy restraints.

“It's okay,” Alex said, placing a hand against the man's chest. “Just relax.”

The patient surveyed the small examination room, then returned his attention to the doctor. He blinked to bring Alex into focus.

“How are you feeling?” Alex asked.

Mr. Connelly considered the question, smacking his mouth. “Thirsty,” he said.

Alex smiled, filled a small paper cup from the sink and tilted it against the man's mouth, waiting as he took a few tentative sips.

“Better?”

“Better.”

“Good.” Alex put aside the cup and turned back to his patient. The man held his gaze, his eyes clear and focused for the first time in weeks, showing no sign of the paranoid delusions that had led to his recent incarceration.

“You may be feeling a bit disoriented,” Alex explained, pulling up a stool and rolling it near the patient's head. “That's okay. Do you know where you are?”

“Some type of hospital room, looks like,” the man said. He noticed the observation window and furrowed his brow. “Who's that?” he said, withdrawing his gaze from the Philax rep and squinting his eyes.

“That's a colleague of mine,” Alex said, straining to keep the irritation from his voice. He was opposed to the executive's presence in the observation room, but Philax always insisted on having someone oversee the procedure. He rested a reassuring hand upon the man's arm and forced another smile.

“Can you tell me why you're here?”

Mr. Connelly relaxed against the bed, staring towards the ceiling, silent. Then he smiled, his long, tangled teeth fanning out like arthritic fingers. He raised his head and stared at Alex as though seeing him for the first time.

“Yeah, y'all said if I let you run tests on me, I could be let go.”

Alex shifted in his seat. He preferred not to focus on how Philax prospected for patients, nor on the state hospital's overeagerness to clear its forensic cells. Early release for a bipolar mother was one thing, freeing a violent schizophrenic in the throes of a psychotic episode was quite another. Once again, he cringed to think what Eli would do if he found out about this.
That's why he won't,
he prayed.

“Well, let's just make sure you're fit for discharge first. Do you feel any pain?”

Mr. Connelly surveyed his body, raising his arms and legs as far as the restraints would allow. “Yeah, these straps are killing my arms. How about you unbuckle them for me?”

“Let's keep them on for now. We need to make sure there are no side effects from the medicine we administered.”

Mr. Connelly flexed his arms, straining against the straps; the electronic pulse on the heart rate monitor began to quicken its pace. Then, he stopped and settled down. “Shit. Can't you just loosen 'em some?”

“Okay. Sure,” Alex said, wishing he had thought to request a guard. He looked over at the overweight Philax executive behind the reinforced, double-pane window and wondered how much help he would be should Mr. Connelly become unruly. The man's expressionless stare revealed nothing. He could just as easily have been mentally optimizing his investment portfolio as contemplating a rescue plan. Alex reached over and loosened the armbands by a couple of notches, studying the patient's eyes for hidden motives.

“Better?”

Mr. Connelly stretched his arms and rubbed his wrists. “Yeah, that's better.” He relaxed against the gurney, the slightest smile tugging at the corner of his mouth, his eyes bright and clear.

Alex had to resist rubbing his own hands together. An hour ago the patient had been extremely agitated, his gaze distant and wandering, his speech jumbled and disjointed. The refined formula appeared to be working. Perhaps it was finally fixed.

Don't get too excited,
Alex urged himself.
We've been farther than this before.

“Good. How about your head? Are you experiencing any pain or tingling? Anything out of the ordinary?” The man had been arrested for slinging his feces at a pack of nuns while screaming about demonic penguins. Alex wasn't sure
ordinary
held the same connotations for Mr. Connelly.

“Not as far as I can tell. Feel a bit sleepy, is all.”

“Well, that's to be expected from the local anesthetic. But your diagnostics are all on track, and you're showing exceptional tolerance towards the medication so far. What I'm most pleased to see is—”

Mr. Connelly went rigid and his eyes opened wide. He snaked his head back and forth in an attempt to see beyond Alex's body. Then his lips peeled back in a grimace and he flattened himself against the bed. “Hey! Where did he come from?” Mr. Connelly said, his frantic eyes focused on something over Alex's shoulder.

Alex's chest clinched, his stomach became a roiling stew. Still, he managed to regain eye contact with his patient and keep his head from hanging.

“As I explained. He's a colleague of mine, here to make sure everything goes smoothly.”

“No, not the fat fuck. The faggot, that little queer boy behind you.” Mr. Connelly started tugging at his arm restraints in an attempt to break free; sweat began to texture his brow. “What, is this some kind of trap? I ain't no queer bait! Let me fucking go!”

“Settle down, Mr. Connelly,” Alex said, taking a cursory look over his shoulder. The Philax exec looked stunned.

Shit, shit, shit!
Alex spun back around and grabbed another syringe from the medical tray, this one containing a sedative. He stuck it in the patient's arm and depressed the plunger. Within seconds Mr. Connelly was settling down, his body relaxing against the bed, his eyelids sinking low.

How about that? Medicine that actually works.

“You're okay,” Alex assured Mr. Connelly. “Everything's okay.”

Mr. Connelly's voice was a sleepy slur. “Goddamn queer.” He rolled a heavy head on a lubricated hinge. “Almost got me.”

“You're okay,” Alex repeated. He gave the man a light pat on his chest. It was all posturing at this point. Anything he could do to salvage a sixth trial.

But he didn't see the fat Philax rep standing behind the window, trembling and growing pale in his hand-tailored suit.

It had been seven years since the man had last seen his son. Since he had thrown him out of the house for coming out of the closet. The boy had moved to San Francisco, last he'd heard, where he'd contracted HIV. He hadn't bothered to pay for a funeral. Hadn't even brought his body home. He'd just sent a check to the crematorium to cover the expenses. He didn't know what they had done with his ashes. He didn't care.

But the boy had just appeared in the examination room. He was sure of it. And, stranger still, the test patient had seen him too.

I must be losing my mind,
he thought.
No more monkeying around with these crazy fucks. That's enough for me.

Alex was still tending to the test patient, watching the man fall peacefully asleep while his own mind raged. He knew he had to face the Philax executive in a matter of moments. He was trying to figure out exactly what to say.

The problem was that they'd already heard it all before. He forced a dispassionate look upon his face and turned towards the observation window. It was empty.

Alex didn't know whether to be disappointed or relieved.

Chapter Two

The drive back to Atlanta from the Philax research facility took Alex four hours. It felt far longer. He had driven the entire distance in a mental haze, reworking the pharmacology of his proprietary formula over and over again in his mind.
Why wasn't it working? Where had he gone wrong?

More importantly, what was he to do now?

Philax represented his last opportunity to prove the efficacy of his experimental compound—one that had worked without fail in the final series of animal trials. Worked so well, in fact, that he had overinvested in its success, borrowing money to purchase the house, the car, the clothes, the lifestyle that he couldn't currently afford. Not solely off his salary from the state hospital, anyhow.

Which brought his thoughts back to Dr. Eli Alpert, Sugar Hill's Chief Medical Director, his boss and respected mentor. In order for the medicine to achieve commercial success, Eli would have to find out about the test trials. There was no way around that. By that point, however, Alex would be able to justify his actions. The benefits of having a medicine proven to treat, if not altogether cure the conditions of acute mental illness would outweigh Dr. Alpert's ethical concerns over patient experimentation. Or his issues with the industry's overreliance on pharmaceutical drugs in general.

Still, he knew better than to disclose the project to Eli before selling it to a pharmaceutical firm. Especially now that it looked like he had exhausted his final option.

It was after 11:00 p.m. when Alex returned home. His forearms were sore from squeezing the steering wheel, and he realized he desperately needed to pee. He mashed the accelerator, launching up the long, winding driveway that led to his suburban estate, thin poplars and pines blurring by as he hugged the corners of the meandering drive. He was rounding the final bend before reaching the circular lot when a white flash streaked in front of the car, dashing underneath the carriage before he had time to react. The supple suspension of his Lexus absorbed the shock, but the car still rocked as it bounced over whatever had run underneath. The creature made a tortured sound like the screeching of tires as he slammed the brakes and skidded to a stop.

There was a moment of total silence, even the cicadas suspending their song, and then he heard the scream.

It came from the front of the house, a piercing shriek that continued to build until it threatened to shatter the glimmering sky. He looked up to find his wife, Rachel, running towards him in her canary-yellow robe, its silk hem billowing out from behind. A slipper flew from her foot as she raced forward, eyes bulging, black hair streaming, mouth open impossibly wide, issuing a wavering scream without end.

She was at the window before Alex had a chance to move, pounding on the glass with the meaty part of her palms. For a moment she resembled one of his patients slipping into a manic episode. The ones that end up strapped to a safety seat, drooling and sedated. He stared up into her face, barely recognizable in its current state of rage, and watched as her palms turned into white crescents as they pounded against the car window.
There's madness in us all,
he thought as pushed open the door.

Rachel stumbled back and then stopped and clamped a hand over her mouth, silencing the scream. The steady tick of the cooling engine became the only sound. She pointed.

Popeye, their West Highland white terrier, lay flattened against the pavement, a coiled string of intestine streaming out from his split belly like an umbilical cord. The pooling blood was black in the dark night with a reflective sheen created by the taillights. As Alex kneeled over the body, he could see himself in the surface of the expanding puddle. He looked too calm. Using the blood as a mirror, he practiced a more concerned expression before turning and facing his wife.

“Shit, honey, I didn't see him. He ran right out in front of the car. Here, don't look.” Alex tried to wrap an arm around her shoulders and shield her from the sight, but she brushed him off. Her shock broke and she began to cry.

“No shit you didn't see him!” She hit him on the chest. “How would you when you're driving like Michael fucking Andretti? How many times have I told you? How many?” She punctuated each question with another punch.

“Rachel, stop it. It was an accident. I didn't see him. Please, just go inside.”

While attempting to turn her, her eyes flew open wide and she froze in place. “Oh God,” she said, looking over his shoulder. Her lip curled in and her face crumpled; she buried it against his neck, convulsing as she unleashed a flood of fresh tears. Alex began to console her, hugging her tight and stroking her back. Then she pushed him away so suddenly he nearly fell.

“Look,” she said, her eyes narrowing into hateful slits, motioning behind him with her head.

Alex turned. Popeye's hind leg was twitching, just like it did whenever Rachel scratched his secret spot.

“Honey, please. Go inside.”

Rachel reached out towards the dog as if she could summon him back to life. “No. He's in pain. Help him.”

Popeye's midsection was flattened, his jaw unhinged, several teeth speckled the concrete like tiny flecks of quartz. Yet, still, the leg twitched. Twitched. Twitched.

“Honey, there's nothing I can do for him. He's gone.”

“He's not gone. He's hurting. Oh, Alex, he's in pain. Please.”

It was a quiet night. Thin clouds drifted past a bloated moon shining with a silvery glow. Elsewhere lovers stole kisses under hanging willow limbs, but here a dog lay dying on a piece of pressure-washed pavement while Alex wondered if the day would ever end. “Okay. Let me see.”

He walked over to Popeye and placed his foot upon the dog's head. Rachel closed her eyes and spun around; she dropped to a knee. Alex looked down, preparing himself to apply the necessary pressure, trying to avoid the fading spark of recognition in the dog's beady eye. Popeye's leg gave one final spasm. His jaw opened and a gout of blood drooled out. Then he lay still. Alex sighed and moved his foot away.

“Okay, it's all over,” he said. He approached Rachel in order to help her to her feet. She heard him coming and stood and began walking towards the house.

“Hey,” Alex said. “Honey, I didn't—”

“No. Not right now.” She walked through the open door and slammed it shut.

Alex's head sagged. He went to the garage and retrieved a garbage bag, then turned and sulked back towards Popeye's body lying behind his car. Rachel's mischievous terrier that he had effectively adopted when they got married, Popeye having come attached to her lap. And he had often felt like Bluto in its company—the brutish rival incapable of providing the same selfless affection as his wife's adoring pet. But their rivalry, imaginary or otherwise, was now over.

So is my sex life,
Alex thought and sighed. Trying to shed the feeling that vague forces were conspiring against him. Much like his patients felt when they went off their meds.

He flapped the garbage sack open and used his foot to sweep Popeye's limp body into the bag, not wanting to get blood on his hands.

BOOK: We Are Monsters
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