I’m a psychiatrist. I don’t solve problems- I solve people. While the two are remarkably similar, there are just enough differences to make me totally redundant in this type of situation.
The tunnel surrounding us is rather nice, as sewers go. The raw waste sloshing around my ankles is almost endearing, though I would prefer to admire it from afar. Of course, Hannah pulling me through it is giving me little option.
‘What the hell was that?’ I cry. ‘That- that made no-‘
‘If you say “That made no sense, that was a dumpster! The ground just swallowed me whole! What the hell is going on?” Then I’m going to be forced to explain things to you, and trust me when I say you don’t want that… So just try to keep breathing; and not worry your smart little biscuit about it. Capiche?’
I nod and realise she can’t hear me in the dark. Honestly, sometimes I question if I’m the sane one when this happens with my clients. ‘Where are you taking me?’
‘We should probably just put a ban on questions altogether. Shhhh!’ She pulls me into an alcove and puts her greasy hand over my mouth. At first I struggle, but then I hear it too- a quiet sloshing, gradually getting louder.
Hannah holds her breath and instinctively I do the same. A heavy breathing overcomes the sloshing as whoever it is gets closer and closer, and a dim red beam of light flashes through the tunnel. Then another. Then another.
The human brain is a strange thing, you see. It sees what you expect it to see. That’s why when you watch a horror movie in the dark, suddenly every shadow and every creak turns into a monster. That is, perhaps, why I can’t see what is right in front of me, in the inky blackness.
What I do see is a shadow. Only nothing is casting it. It’s hard to explain, but the only way I can differentiate it from the shadow around the rest of the tunnel is that the faintest red glow around it. It’s kind of like the outline of a human, but also not a human. My brain can’t process what I’m seeing, but just imagine the most disturbing thing you’ve ever thought you’ve seen lurking in the shadows, and you’re there.
A low gargling noise emanates from the space it occupies, and it moves closer to the alcove where Hannah still has that iron grip over my mouth. It’s close now, and I can feel something else radiating from it- again, it’s something my brain is failing to tell me how to describe. Like my internal monologue is turning to mush, and my hummingbird-heartbeat is slowing, my eyes are drooping…
I look down and utter a muffled scream, while Hannah curses-
She lets me go as the shadow-man lunges, thrusts her palms at it- a bright green light emanates from her thumb once again, and just like that, the creature vanishes. She suddenly droops against the wall, directing her suddenly waning energy into giving me a death glare. ‘Are you trying to get us fucking killed?’
‘W-what was that thing?’
‘Clearly a paranoid delusion, you still think I’m crazy?’
‘I don’t think I’m a right judge of that anymore.’
‘Fucking right.’ She puts her thumb into her mouth, wincing in pain. ‘Next time you look down and see yourself being erased, try being goddamn quiet. He might have moved past us if it hadn’t been for your little existential crises.’
‘I didn’t have legs!’ I snap, and her glare intensifies.
‘They would have grown back, stop being such a wimp!’
‘A WIMP? I JUST WANTED MY CUP OF TEA!’
It’s dark but I can feel her roll her eyes. ‘This is neither the time nor the place to be British, Doctor. Just keep quiet and follow me.’
She starts off down the corridor again, and I still follow her, only because I swear I can hear more sploshing again. Bigger sounds.
‘That one will be regenerating soon. The bigger ones can smell the anomaly.’
I’m in a snapping mood now. The exact opposite of a professional. ‘If you don’t want me to ask questions, just get me out of here and let’s go our separate ways; okay?’
She snorts. ‘Your legs just disappeared and nobody at CleanMinds knows who you are. You really think if I let you go everything is going to be hunky-dory?’ She shrugs. ‘Sure. Why not? Maybe I can start up my sheep farm in Tibet and neither of us will have to live in fear of our own shadows, either.’
‘You do that. Just leave me alo-‘
‘Shh!’ She starts climbing up a ladder, where a single beam of light is raining down on the ankle-deep sewage we’re wading through. ‘When we get out, keep quiet and stay close. Don’t trust anybody, and always stay sunny-side up. Got it?’
I nod again and realise again that she can’t see me. ‘Whatever you say, Hannah.’
She doesn’t seem convinced, but she opens the circle of light and leads me out into the world once more-
Such a shame it’s the wrong one.