Four

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
A patient without name. Illness with no explanation. A doctor will investigate. For good or bad.

Submitted: November 20, 2016

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Submitted: November 20, 2016

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Dr Atwood let the bin lid fall shut, and dusted his hands together.

‘So,’ he said, turning around in his chair, ‘how can I help you?’

‘You know how,’ Dr Fisher hissed through her teeth in response. ‘Same as it’s been the last three times I’ve been to see you. Number 44.’

‘Oh, Number 44 again, is it?’ Dr Atwood asked, already growing bored with the conversation. ‘Anything new to report?’

‘He’s just the same. That’s rather the problem, though. It’s been four months since he was admitted into the facility, and in that time, we’ve barely seen any change, for good or for bad.’

‘Well, that can only mean his condition is stable, can’t it?’

‘Not necessarily. He’s yet to develop an+

y further symptoms we can use to diagnose him. And until we have those, there’s very little we can do in the way of helping him.’

‘We feed him, clothe him, give him somewhere to live…’

‘And beyond that? We can’t give him any help until we identify the cause, or at very least, the nature of his condition.’

‘You know as much as I do,’ Dr Atwood reminded her. ‘Which is precisely nothing. You are more than welcome to examine him again, but until then, there’s very little we can do about it, I’m afraid.’

 

The oaf. No, oaf wasn’t a strong enough word for him. The cretin. There, that was getting closer. The utter, utter moron, the brain-dead imbecile, the juvenile idiot with about as much common sense and intelligence as a garden pea.

Dr Fisher seethed out, flicking the lit cigarette irritably. Ash flew from the end and scattered to the ground.

For some unfathomable reason, Dr Atwood was still in charge of the institute. No matter how many letters of complaint, votes of confidence, hearings, death threats burnt into his mid-morning toast she’d tried, the Board still had every faith in him and his abilities.

The man was barely competent enough to make a cup of tea, for crying out loud! And yet he was still in charge of countless individuals on a daily basis who needed their help and support.

Take Number 44, for example. They didn’t even know his name, or address, not even the slightest thing about him. When the police found him gibbering in a pile in the streets, his wallet didn’t have any identification inside; his phone was smashed to pieces; and he couldn’t be found on any police or medical records. The police had kept him in Cell 44 for the next few days after finding him, hence his name. In that time, nobody came forward to identify him.

After the fourth day in the cell, they’d sent him to the institute, for further treatment and study. It had been just over a month now, and he was the same manic wreck he was when he first arrived.

A dissociative disorder was their first guess; that he’d received some great shock, and was simply struggling to come to terms with it. That had been blown to shards after they noticed his reactions to things around him – he noticed them to be largely coherent, at least from his point of view. That, combined with the lack of other symptoms, such as memory loss, removed any basis for that theory.

Their second guess was a series of hallucinations, possibly brought on by narcotics. There was definitely something in the way he pointed and scrutinised certain things, both seemingly at random yet organised at the same time. A method to his madness, so to speak. However, when the effects lasted for weeks, long after the substances should have either been washed out of his system or killed him.

Their third guess was that he was simply faking it. The energy it must take to keep up such a lively, frantic act, most people would have fallen asleep far more often if it were genuine. And he had barely slept the time he’d been there, one, maybe two hours a night. But what would he gain from faking it? Nothing, except the time he spent incarcerated at the institute.

Their fourth guess had better be something good, was the unanimous decision.

Dr Fisher tossed away the cigarette butt, turning back to head inside.

 

‘I don’t see why you bother, you can hardly see anything as it is.’

Dr Fisher tapped at the keyboard, groaning in frustration at the ancient computer. The last time it had had a check-up, Chamberlain was Prime Minister, she often said to one of her colleagues. In fact, she was more surprised that it didn’t type in cuneiform.

‘I know, but it’s better than nothing,’ she replied to Dr Atwood. On the computer screen was a crackled image of a room, in murky black and white. There was a bed to one side, a table to the over. And in the centre of the room, a figure, writhing and howling in apparent agony.

‘You’re not going to get anything, it’s just the same as he’s always been.’ Dr Atwood took a sip of his tea. He selected a biscuit from the tray and dunked it in, taking a bite.

‘Every little helps,’ Dr Fisher answered brightly. ‘We’re still no closer towards finding out what actually happened to him. The sooner we discover that, then the sooner we are to finding a treatment for him.’

‘You know what your problem is? You don’t know when to admit defeat.’

‘Hmm?’

‘I mean it. There are such things as a lost cause, you know.’

Dr Fisher shot a look at Dr Atwood as the sodden half of his next biscuit detached and fell into his tea. ‘You don’t say…?’ she replied under her breath.

‘I’ve been at this a fair deal longer than you have, my girl,’ he said, fishing the Hobnob clump from his drink. ‘And if that teaches you one thing, it’s that not everyone can be saved.’

‘Be that as it may,’ she said, pausing the feed for a second, ‘he can still be saved. There’s got to be something we can do, and if we… if I quit too early, then I’ll never forgive myself.’

Dr Atwood shrugged. ‘Suit yourself.’

 

Rain shot down on the street like the rattle of artillery fire. Dr Fisher held her coat over her head; despite this, the rain still managed to trickle down the back of her neck.

‘I’m afraid I can’t tell you anymore than I already have,’ Constable Wickers announced from behind his desk.

‘Come on, I need to know this stuff,’ Dr Fisher replied, balling one hand into an exasperated fist. ‘I know it’s official policy, and confidentiality, and all that, but a man’s life might be at stake here.’

‘Oh.’ Constable Wickers sat up, harrumphing a little. ‘We’ve been speaking at cross purposes, it would appear. I can’t tell you anything else, because, well, I don’t know anything else.’

‘There must be something! Security camera feed, witnesses?’

‘Now listen here,’ Constable Wickers pointed a sausage finger at Dr Fisher. ‘Do I tell you how to, erm… sorry, what is it you do again?’

Dr Fisher sighed. ‘Psychoanalysis, psychotherapy and psychology. Study of the human mind,’ she explained. She decided not to add, ‘you’ve probably not had much experience there,’ for obvious reasons.

‘Ah, I see. Liberal claptrap,’ Constable Wickers huffed, jostling his humungous form in his desk chair.

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘Load of rubbish, isn’t it? A criminal’s a criminal, no matter what’s going on in their upstairs department.’

‘Well, I find that to be something of an outdated—’

‘No use pussyfooting around the subject, is there? Way I see it, there’s two types of people in this society – safe, and not safe. And the not safe ones, we put them away. The safe ones, well, they can do as they please. Not faff about with excuses like ‘psychosis’ and ‘disorder.’’

‘Okay, love to chat, but I’ve got to be going now,’ Dr Fisher said, rising from her seat and walking towards the door. ‘I’ll be back if I’ve any more questions.’

It was still raining as she walked into the foyer. Dr Fisher grimaced as she pressed her face to the window, looking out into the street. Leave it another five minutes, just in case it cooled off.

She sat in the chair, a slobbering drunk to one side and a mother with a bawling child to the other. It was the only chair in the place available, and if it wasn’t for the cold she had coming on, she would frankly rather stand in the rain.

So the trip had been a bust after all. Constable Wickers was just as useless as the other police officers she’d talked to – anything that hadn’t been definitively proven, presented before a committee, signed in triplicate and laminated, it wasn’t considered worthwhile.

Missing posters had been plastered up all around the area in which he’d been found; newspapers, social websites and every milk carton north of Devon had his face on it. But nobody had come forward, nobody had even claimed to know him. It was possible, of course – if he worked from home and wasn’t particularly social in his free time, then nobody would be any the wiser if he vanished overnight.

He’d been found in a fairly busy part of town, just off of Main Street. However, nobody had stopped for him; instead, they just passed his alleyway, speeding up their pace a little but with little else to show for it.

The rain calmed down to a soft drizzle, the last few drops of the storm coming down now. Dr Fisher looked through the window, and decided to take her chances.

It sloshed around her ankles in great puddles, some of the dirty water leaping up and drenching through her tights. What a way to spend your lunch hour, she thought to herself bitterly. Dr Atwood was probably nice and cosy in his office, cup of tea in one hand and a bacon sandwich in the other. Whilst she, she was out here doing actual work, doing things that might actually help save someone’s life, or at the very least, their mind.

She sighed. There wasn’t anything she could do to change his mind, not after all this time. Whether she liked it or not, he had a point. Most of the times, their techniques worked. But this one in a million, it just didn’t, simple as that. Sometimes, it can’t be chalked up to scientific error, or a mistake, or anything like that. Sometimes, anomalies exist simply because they do.

That wasn’t good enough. It made sense, yes, but it wasn’t good enough, plain and simple. She was a doctor, and it was her job to make people better, in any and every way she could.

 

It was gone midnight by the time she got home. The train back to the office had been delayed, costing her even more time. As a result, there was enough paperwork left for her to bury the filing cabinet, which she’d worked at on and off for the next four hours.

She flicked the lights on, dumping her bags onto the kitchen table in a heap. She could sort them out in the morning; she was definitely too tired now.

The phone beeped thrice as she tapped the button, with another pip sounding as she reached for the handset. Four missed calls. She groaned for what must be the fiftieth time today easily. She didn’t need this right now. It was probably just her mother, checking up on her… again. Ever since she’d moved, her mother had become convinced that she was either going to starve to death, or blow herself up trying to cook. Hence, every day, at eight on the dot, she was gifted with a call from her mother.

She’d call back in the morning. Dr Fisher sighed, pulling a saucepan from the cupboard and putting it on the hob. She poured the tin into the pan and started to stir.

She had one bowl in her house; one plate, one cup, knife, fork and spoon, one of each. Her living room only had an armchair, overstuffed and plump; a window made up one wall and bookshelves the others.

Dr Fisher moved through to the living, sitting down in her singular armchair, eating her supper with her singular spoon out of her singular bowl. A book was propped on the arm; she picked it up and started to read where she’d left off.

 

‘And with you,’ one of the nurses smiled as Father Edison departed. He grinned his signature grin, foppish curls bouncing as he bounded down the corridor.

‘Good morning, Dr Fisher!’ he greeted her brightly, raising a friendly hand to her.

‘Morning,’ she replied, somewhat gruffly. She hadn’t had the best night’s sleep last night, as was evident to anyone who dared to mention it. The institute’s chaplain naturally wasn’t one of those people.

‘Any progress with number, er, 44, was it?’ Father Edison asked, tucking his hands into his trouser pockets.

‘Hmm? Oh, no, nothing.’

‘Such a shame. Don’t you think it’s a little… dehumanising, calling them ‘Number So-and-so,’ and all that?’

‘Not really.’ Dr Fisher turned around. ‘Nothing else we can call them.’

‘Yes, yes, that’s true, very true,’ Father Edison agreed, nodding. ‘He’s been in my prayers, you know.’

‘Really? Well, it can’t hurt, can it?’

‘No. Then again, you never quite know where you stand with divine intervention, do you?’ He smiled broadly at her.

‘No, I suppose you don’t.’

‘Marvellous, really, the way things present themselves in our world. Oh, not just miracles and wondrous sights. In the smallest of details – did you know, for example, that humans have all created pyramids at the same time in three different points in the world? Yes, it’s true! None of them got the idea from another, and yet they all happened together.’

‘And that’s God, right?’

‘Perhaps. To such a powerful and omnipotent being, something as simple as planting an idea must be child’s play, no blasphemy intended, of course. In fact, when you start to look for them, you’d be surprised how many recurrent images there are in today’s society. Who knows that they might be manifestations, of a sort, of some higher power?’

‘Oh, like those pieces of toast that have Jesus burnt into them, stuff like that?’

‘Perhaps. Or it could be through countless subtle ways, you know? Really, it’s fascinating once you begin to delve into the subject. I’ve, er, become something of an expert on the subject as of late.’

‘Yeah? Sounds interesting.’ Dr Fisher looked over her shoulder, checking for something she could use as an escape from her captor.

‘Oh, it is, it is.’

The problem with Father Edison was that he was the same as very teacher you never wanted to have. Not bad, as such, but overbearing; constantly believing that what they had to tell you was far and away the most astounding, important and mind-blowing thing ever uttered in the history of the human race. As par the course with teachers, it almost never was.

‘Sorry I have to love you and leave you,’ Dr Fisher cut in suddenly, ‘but I’m going to have to shoot off now. Couple of patients that need seeing to, that sort of thing.’

‘Oh, alright, then, off you go.’ Father Edison beamed once more. ‘Talk to you soon!’

‘Not if I can help it…’ Dr Fisher replied almost silently through gritted teeth as Father Edison headed down the corridor.

 

The plastic knife and fork jostled together on top of the tray as Dr Fisher headed towards the room. This was the first time she’d carried a tray, and with every step she took, she was wary of the water in the cup splashing up near the rim, or the plate sliding towards the edge.

She’d always hated the corridors here. They were long, featureless canvases, painted in that exact shade of grey that seemed to slice out any joy you might have had in your life beforehand. Doors were dotted along the corridor at regular intervals, a window of glass and wire mesh allowing people to look into the rooms.

It was quiet. Normally, there was at least one person making noise – banging on the walls, shouting for help, something like that – but there was nothing. Dr Fisher steeled herself and carried on towards her destination.

Room 44. It wasn’t actually that, of course; it had just been christened such by the staff, for obvious reasons. For some reason, a chill scuttled down her back as she approached the room. Her hands gripped the tray tighter, and she opened the door.

The bed had been upturned. That happened every day or so, most probably by accident. During his flailing, a hand or foot would catch the side of the bed and send it flying. She’d sent someone to right it later on. Similarly, the table had been tossed aside. It had been empty, thankfully, but it still wasn’t a good sign.

He had hardly stopped the violence the entire time he’d been there. It didn’t appear to be aimed in any specific direction – if he fell one way, he’d continue thrashing without change. He couldn’t be trying to break out, or attacking any object in particular. He seemed to want to destroy everything.

At the moment, he was lying in a heap in the floor, his muscles presumably aching too much for him to move. All the safer for Dr Fisher, if nothing else.

Like proffering a slab of meat to a caged lion, Dr Fisher placed the tray on the floor and slid it towards him. He flinched at the sound at first, but soon ignored it, going back to his quivering.

‘Let me know if you need anything…’ Dr Fisher breathed out quickly, shooting a quick smile at him as she did. He turned his head and looked at her, his eyes moving up her body slowly, bit by bit.

This was the first time she’d seen him in person. All the studies and research, that had either been other doctors, or over the cameras, but now, she was faced with him. His eyes were wide, blinking slowly and awkwardly.

‘Okay,’ she said, heading towards the door. ‘Bye.’

The door slammed shut. Number 44 watched the silhouette vanish from the doorway, and grabbed a handful of food.

 

‘I used to have this friend,’ Dr Fisher started through a mouthful of sandwich.

‘Oh, we’re onto science fiction now, are we?’ Dr Atwood asked, entirely disinterested.

‘Alright, smartarse, let me speak. I had this friend, she was called Sally.’ Dr Fisher swallowed her mouthful. ‘And she was terrified of spiders, I mean, scream, cry and piss, terrified. No idea why, she just was. And one night, we had a sleepover. Her, me, about half a dozen other girls, all of us in my mum’s living room. So it was middle of the night, most of us asleep. I get up to go the toilet, right? I come back into the room, and get into my sleeping bag.’

‘Does this happen to be going anywhere, besides a late-night version of Jackanory?’

‘I’m getting there! So, I get back into bed. Only, as I do, I knock her my accident. Just a nudge, but it wakes her up. And on her face, was this massive spider.

‘Like, size-of-a-playing-card big, right? But she didn’t scream. I brushed it off her, got it under a mug, piece of cake. I check if she’s alright, but she didn’t scream. Not a whimper. She just looks at me, like she was in shock. Well, I suppose she was, really. Her eyes… she just looked right out of it. Anyway, back to the present day. I went to see Number 44 just now, taking him his food.’

‘Yes?’

‘Yeah. And he wasn’t tossing stuff about, like he normally is. He just looked at me. And that look… it’s the same Sally had that night. Like he didn’t know how to scream, or didn’t want to. I think we’re a bit closer to finding out what made him like this.’

‘Oh? Pray tell.’

‘It wasn’t something that shocked him, like we first thought that it was.’

‘Really?’

‘Yeah.’ Dr Fisher finished her sandwich. ‘It was something that scared him.’

 

Slowly, the lights turned off all around the institute, as the night shift began to creep on. People packed up their things and left, giving a sympathetic look of farewell to the bleary-eyed nighters.

Dr Fisher spun a pencil in her fingers, hearing it click frantically against her fingernails. She didn’t have to wait long. Security would be a bit laxer in the night shift – obviously, it would still be there, but it should, in theory, be one less hurdle for her.

‘Goodnight!’ Dr Atwood said to everyone he passed, still wrestling with the other sleeve of his coat. ‘See you tomorrow!’

‘See you.’ Dr Fisher waved a hand at him as he left, staying at her desk.

‘Not staying all night, I hope?’ he asked, giving an accusing look as he stepped over the threshold into her office. ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull lad, remember?’

‘Yes, I know,’ Dr Fisher replied, putting the pencil down for a second and looking at him. ‘Don’t worry, I’m heading off in a minute, I’ve just got to finish sorting out these then I’m gone.’ She held up a quartet of papers to prove her point.

‘Very well. See you in the morning.’ And with that, Dr Atwood was gone.

 

Most of the institute was empty now. One or two emergency nurses and security were at their posts, cradling mugs of coffee in their hands. Some of them had books they were reading; the others just sat idly.

Dr Fisher crept out of her office, checking up and down the corridor. There was nobody there. Really, the security in this place could be downright appalling at times. Still, never mind. It was acting her favour for once. It had just gone eight, so most of the staff would be gone by now, leaving only a skeleton crew behind.

She closed her office door and set off down the corridor.

This was going against damn near every restriction, regulation and guideline that came to mind, of course. If anyone found out, this could be the night that signals the end of her life. She tried not to think about that. There was a job she had to do, whether she liked it or not. She had to find out what was wrong with him, by any means.

One of the security guards passed her at one point. She just smiled at him, carrying on her way. He’d probably just think her to be one of the night staff and forget all about it. Unless he was questioned later on.

Room 44 should just be down the corridor. She still had the key from her visit before, so getting in shouldn’t be a problem. Hopefully, he’d be asleep. If he wasn’t, then it was just a matter of waiting it out until tiredness overtook him.

That is, providing it didn’t get her first. She stifled a yawn, covering her hand with her mouth. She’d barely slept the night before, every fresh thought stirring her from her slumber and forcing her awake. And she’d been at work for just over twelve hours for a start, which wasn’t going to do her any favours. Maybe she could pull a sickie tomorrow, say she’d gotten flu or something like that. No, that probably wouldn’t work; Dr Atwood had just seen her a few moments earlier, and she was looking as well as she normally did.

One thing was sure; she’d be hitting the coffee tomorrow morning.

She reached Room 44. The window at the end of the corridor let in long fingers of moonlight, stretching down the corridor towards her, the grey tiles of the floor turned into silver and argent. Dr Fisher saw her breath form a cloud in front of her. It was almost as if…

She scoffed at herself. Quite frankly, she was being ridiculous. There were children in the world who wouldn’t have been scared of a dark corridor, or a few shadows in the night. She pulled herself together, grabbing the torch from her pocket.

Carefully, she stepped towards the door to Room 44 and pressed her ear to the door. She could hear snoring, just about, muffled through the wood of the door. So he was asleep. That made things a lot easier for her.

As slowly and quietly as possible, she turned the key in the lock and slipped inside.

His snoring was much louder inside the room than out. It seemed to reverberate and echo off of the walls, the place acting like a sound chamber. He was curled up into a ball in the centre of the room, his arms hugging his legs up to his chin.

Dr Fisher squatted on the floor next to him and pulled out her notepad, listening carefully to the mumbled words that slipped out of his mouth.

Everything happened in a blur. His eyes shot open, instantly aware of her presence. Before she could do anything, he flung her across the room with one hand, like a ragdoll. With the other, he grabbed the pen and dived onto the notepad.

Winded, Dr Fisher scrambled to her feet and ran over to him. It was too late. He dropped the pencil to the side, clearly content with whatever it was he’d done. That was what he’d been waiting all this time for.

She picked up the notepad, looking at what he’d written. Or rather, what he’d drawn.

Four. There was four… no, that wasn’t right. She screwed her eyes up, and checked again. Four. There were definitely four sides…

It was a triangle. Four sides. One, two, three, four… but it was a triangle. How…

Dr Fisher fell to the ground without noticing, the notepad falling from her hand.

 

With a heavy sigh, Dr Atwood looked at the patient. It was a mystery, one that would go on possibly forever without being solved.

There had been the piece of paper, torn up and swallowed. There had been the torch and key, just to the side. There had been Number 44, sleeping like it was the first time in his life.

And there had been the patient, raving, gibbering and bawling just as she was now as when they’d found her.

Dr Fisher was no more.


© Copyright 2017 Ben Ramsey. All rights reserved.

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