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Empath: Into the Shadow, Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Art by Alex Grey

September 15th, 2016

The coffee was cold and bitter, but Justin drank it, anyway. A thermos a day, sometimes. Unlike some of the people he studied, he needed caffeine to function and stay awake. He would get headaches sometimes if he went without, full-blown migraines if he was thinking too hard or highly stressed out. Sometimes his anxiety would go through the roof and he'd do breathing techniques to slow his heart rate. Often times, he thought about cutting it out because it was almost an addiction. It is an addiction, but it’s legal addiction, so as long as I have free will, I’m drinking coffee. Justin pushed up his glasses and walked out the employee lounge, leaving his thermos of black, bitter, cold coffee behind.

He went down the hallway and swiped his card to get into the low security wing of the mental ward. Holding his laptop close to his body, he weaved in and out between patients and staff. Justin ducked into the activity room and scanned the faces. Kelly Marshall wasn’t there, so he went to her room and she wasn’t there, either. He found her in the cafeteria area watching television. Her long black hair was pulled back today and a blanket was wrapped around her shoulders, yet she seemed to be shivering.

“Kelly, are you alright?” Justin asked.

“Yes. I assume you want to speak to me?” She stood up from the couch.

“Yes, lets continue the conversation elsewhere. More private.” Justin led her down the hallway to the conference room and swiped his card to open the door. He sat at the right of the table, opened his laptop, and Kelly sat at the head of the table.

“So, Ms. Marshall, how are you feeling today?” Justin asked typing in his computer the transcript of the conversation.

“Why do you come to see me?” Kelly asked, not responding to the question.

“I’m interested in your case for my thesis, I’ve told you this before.” Justin responded. “Maybe we can start where we left off. The voices. When did they start?”

“I’ve told you before. When I was thirteen.” Kelly said. Justin had already surmised it was brought on by puberty, but he wanted to dig deeper into the first experience. Kelly had never told anyone the exact words of what the voice she thought was a demon said when she was younger. It was always vague. There had been times where there were multiple voices, but she mainly heard one which she called the Master that had, several times, told her to kill herself, leading to a suicide attempt when she was sixteen and cutting herself throughout all of high school. She was diagnosed schizophrenic when she was first admitted to a hospital when the voices began, but now she was considered bipolar schizoaffective, as she didn’t have hygiene issues or the other signs of schizophrenia.

“What did the voice say?” Justin asked.

“I told you—to kill myself and stuff. I really don’t want to say…” Kelly trailed off and looked at the floor. She was still shivering under the blanket, and Justin made a note in the transcript.

“Kelly, Ms. Marshall—“

“Listen, I don’t know who you are but you don’t work for the hospital and frankly I don’t want to go into it. Just tell me why should I tell you what the voice exactly said? Huh?” Kelly cut him off; Justin started to feel a pain just behind his eyes. He stopped typing, took off his glasses, and rubbed his eyes. A caffeine headache already? I should’ve finished the thermos. Justin put his glasses on and Kelly was staring at him with a grimace on her face, still. The headache throbbed dully.

“Ms. Marshall, I’m here to help you—“ Justin began.

“No, you’re here to study me for your thesis.” She mock mimicked him. Justin frowned.

“Maybe we should try this conversation some other time." Justin said, closing his laptop and rising. “You seem to have anxiety. You are shaking, and I’ll see if one of the nurses can give you something. I assure you, Kelly, I’m here to help,” Justin said as he led her out of the conference room and down the hallway to the nurses’ station. Justin left her there and went back to the employee lounge to have some more coffee, but by the time he got there, the headache had dissipated. He thought nothing of it.

* * *

Kelly watched as Justin walked down the hallway and waited until she saw his white lab coat disappear behind the closed doors of the staff only area of the hospital. She went into her room, closing the door behind her, and sat on her bed. Kelly spit the pill she was hiding in her cheek into her hand. Reaching behind the bed and wall, she pulled out a rolled up cheese cracker bag. She dumped the contents into her palm and counted the multitude of pills. Sleeping pills, mostly, but also anti-anxiety and mood stabilizers and several lithium pills Kelly had gotten from another patient. She looked at the pills and guessed her deadly cocktail was just about ready. I’ll wait for tonight’s dose of sleeping pills. I hope that’s enough.

She wrapped all the blankets around herself and tried to stop shivering after putting the cheese cracker bag back in its place. She lied there and pushed the voices away. They were whispers on the edge of her consciousness. She cried. She just let the tears come. There would be moments of silence, then the voices would come back. They always came back when she was alone, especially now that she wasn’t on medication. Kelly controlled the tears and breathed hard, concentrated hard, and one by one, the voices went away slowly. She concentrated on her breathing. Slowly, the voices, in all languages, started to fade away. Slowly, Kelly began to relax and feel the warmth of the blankets cocooning her. The tears had all but gone away when, finally, his voice came booming into her head at a yell.The Master.

<Slut! Whore! You rotten wretched whore! You don’t deserve to live! You touch yourself! You touch yourself! You don’t deserve the gift! Kill yourself…you touch yourself…Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me...>

Kelly started to shiver and cry again. She tried with all her might to fight horrible voice off. <You touch yourself…> Like always, she tried to imagine she was in her mother's arms as a little baby. <Whore! Whore!> Her lips moved but no sound came out at first…<Hear me roar in your ear little whore….I stand at the door and knock…> “Somewhere…over….the rainbow…way up high…” Kelly started to whisper. <…hears my voice and opens the door…> She concentrated, “There’s a land…I once heard…in a lullaby…” Tears ran down her cheeks as she pushed him away. The Master was distant now, but still echoing in her head. <Whore…you touch yourself…I stand at the door and knock…> She visualized her father’s face, looking up at it as if in his arms. “Somewhere…over the rainbow…skies are blue.” Her voice was more than a whisper now and she heard it in her own head, overpowering him. “And the dreams…that you dare to dream…really do come true…” She took a deep breath and continued, “Someday I'll wish upon a star…and wake up where the clouds…are far behind me…Where troubles melt like lemon drops…Away above the chimney tops…That's where you'll find me…somewhere over the rainbow…bluebirds fly…Birds fly over the rainbow…Why then, oh why can't I? If happy little bluebirds fly…Beyond the rainbow…Why, oh why, can't I?”

The Master was gone. She felt his presence leave her. It would be a matter of time but he would be back, echoing words of hatred she knew. Without medication, he came and went at will. She would feel his presence as if someone was looking out her eyes. Slowly, though, she began to realize there was also someone else inside. Someone watching, feeling the deep recesses of her mind. Kelly was aware of a presence that went further than the Master; stronger than him. A light in the darkness. She wondered if it was God, but the presence felt all too human. His poetry was music to her and she listened for it now as words danced at the creature’s fingertips. She listened as the keys played a tune of letters as someone outside of time painted with brush strokes of the mind.

* * *

Will felt apprehensive, like something was going to happen. The feeling came with visions of his boss yelling in his face and paper cups all over the factory floor. As he drove into work, he chain-smoked five cigarettes in an attempt to help his anxiety. It just made it worse. Will got the sense there was something else brewing on the horizon—not just a bad day at work. He went into the cafeteria and punched in. He was five minutes late. He ran to the paper side of the factory, found out what machine he was working today, and went to work. His heart was beating fast in his chest. He did some deep breathing as he worked. Soon, the anxiety dissipated, but the apprehensive feeling wouldn’t go away.

The day went by smoothly for a few hours before he lost the tail on his bagging machine. Will tried as he might and couldn’t get the tail. Cups fresh out of the ovens were piling up and falling all over the place. He ran to the mechanic to turn off the machine. The cups stopped coming for a few minutes, and they started coming again before he fixed the problem. What Will didn’t know was that Bob had told the mechanic to turn the machine back on. He was standing mere feet away, watching Will struggle, and came up behind him.

“What’s your problem? Can’t you run these damn machines?” Bob said angrily. Will could feel the hatred coming off of this man in waves.

“I’m sorry, I’m just not good at mechanical stuff…” Will started to say.

“Well you knew what the job entailed, didn’t you?” Bob cut him off.

“I’m sorry. I’m trying.” That’s all Will could think to say, and he rushed past Bob trying to fix the problem. Cups were everywhere. Sharon came over and tried to help. Bob yelled at her to get back to her station and just watched as the chaos ensued—watching Will struggle. After he fixed the problem and was able to start putting the cups that had piled up back through the machine, Bob came back up behind him and tapped Will on the shoulder.

“Why were you late today?” Bob asked.

“I don’t know, I was just late.” Will said. He didn’t want to say that he had been puking, probably because of his hangover.

“If it’s one of the good workers, I let it slide. Improve your work quality or the next time it’s a write-up.” Bob said and stormed away. Will went back to work and felt like crying. He took a few deep breaths and continued working. He was working about an hour and he just felt like he was wasting his life away working dead end jobs. He really wanted to make music or movies or books, something with his mind not just working for peanuts. Sure, Dixie was his first full-time job and he was making good money, but the artist in him was speaking to him now. Fuck this shit! Why be miserable and have to work under some asshole that doesn’t respect me?

It was the thought or straw that broke the camel's back. His mind went to the call the other day with Justin and he remembered it was a paid study. That settled it. He waited till his co-worker came back from break, said, “I won’t be coming back,” and walked into Bob’s office and curtly quit. There was shock on the fat man’s face and Will could feel regret coming from Bob like he had gone too far this time.

“Okay, just wait in here as I fill out some paperwork and make a call.” Will sat there and, for the first time in months, he felt good. He felt good because he was quitting. Bob finished the paperwork and told him to follow him out. They walked through the paper side of the factory and Will walked with his head up high. As he walked past all the co-workers who never talked to him or helped him out, he felt real fucking good to see this place as a part of his past. Some of them smiled and waved, apparently already hearing the information that he quit. The cafeteria was just by the door to the parking lot and Will looked in. Sharon was eating at one of the tables. Will asked Bob if he could have a moment and walked over to her. She looked up at him with a smile and bright eyes.

“I’ve already heard,” she said, getting up to give him a hug. “It’s the right choice. Like I’ve told you, this place made my hair go grey.”

“Thank you so much. You were really my only friend here. I hope everything will work out fine with your son,” Will said.

“He called yesterday. He’s been at his friends and is seriously thinking about rehab. Don’t worry, honey. Good luck!” She said and gave him a big tight hug. Will said thank you and wished her the best as well. He turned around. All eyes were on him as he walked back to Bob and out of the cafeteria for the last time. There were two doors leading out into the parking lot, a little hallway in between or foyer. Will stopped Bob in the foyer before they entered the parking lot.

“I just want to say something to you before I leave,” Will said.

“Sure…go ahead.” Bob shuffled his feet, not making eye contact and, for once, he didn’t look angry. Will surmised he definitely hadn’t meant to cause him to quit.

“I just want to say it’s been a pleasure working with you, except, you need to learn some people skills and to treat your workers with respect,” Will said and extended his hand. Bob seemed stunned and shook his hand. It was the first time they ever had. They paused a second and Bob smiled slightly.

“Hold on just a second. Wait here,” Bob said and walked into the parking lot. Will was confused but waited. A few minutes passed and Bob came back. The paper that was Will’s photo was folded in his hand; he hadn’t given it to the security guard to put up with the rest of disgruntled ex-employees.

“I don’t think there’ll be any problems. I won’t have to escort you further,” Bob said, smiling wanly, and shook Will’s hand again. Will walked outside and it was raining. He smiled as raindrops hit his face and walked to his car. He drove home, lit a cigarette, and the good feeling dissipated as he drove. Thunder boomed and lightning started to flash. Something’s going to happen. The apprehension was back, but he didn’t know from where. All he knew was that he had to get in contact with Justin. Something was on the horizon; something big. Will could feel the foreshadow in his mind like someone was writing his destiny.

* * *

Justin awoke with a startle. His cell phone was ringing and the clock by the bed said 1:23 AM. He rubbed his eyes, looked at who was calling, and recognized the number right away as William Brown’s. Why is he calling me at this hour? How’d he get my number that’s not the one I gave him? Then, Justin realized he had called him on his cell the other day. Will must’ve just looked in his recent calls. Justin thought about ignoring the call, but curiosity got the better of him and he answered.

“Hello?” Justin said into the phone.

“Listen, it’s Will. This is gonna sound crazy, but someone named Kelly is in danger right now. You must find her and make sure she’s alright, I know you know who I’m talking about.,” Will said. Justin could sense the urgency in his voice and knew right away he was talking about Kelly Marshall. Justin knew not to think in coincidences but that there was such a thing a synchronicity. I know Will is very intuitive, but how could he know about Kelly?

“What’s wrong with her?” Justin asked.

“There’s no time. You have to stop her. I’ll explain later,” Will said.

“OK,” Justin said and hung up the phone. Without any hesitation, he got dressed, grabbed his keys and phone, and ran to his car in the pounding rain. The mental hospital was twenty minutes away; Justin made it there in about ten, almost hydroplaning off the road several times, but made it there safely. It was a quarter to 2 AM. He ran through the rain to the door and told security it was high priority he see a patient right this second and told the security guard to follow him. The security guard at the desk started to ask questions. Justin cut him off and said he thought it was a matter of life or death and not to ask questions.

They raced to the low security wing. There was an orderly asleep in a chair right outside Kelly’s room. Justin Looked in, Kelly wasn’t in her bed. Justin began shaking the orderly awake and his eyes half opened.

“What?” he said groggily.

“Where’s Kelly Marshall?” Justin asked urgently. The orderly drifted back off to sleep. Justin shook him. It was no use. He had been drugged, Justin thought. He turned to the security guard behind him.

“Search the entire hospital. She might still be here,” Justin ordered. The security guard talked into his walkie-talkie, saying a code that was probably for an escaped patient. By 3 AM, the entire hospital had been searched, and they saw through watching the video monitors that she had somehow made it outside unseen, and one of the outside cameras caught a brief glimpse of her heading into the surrounding forest. Justin had missed her by minutes. As he watched the video monitors, he had seen he had actually helped in her escape. He scolded himself and knew he would probably be reprimanded by his superior, but he didn’t care. All he cared about was finding Kelly. The local authorities were called and a search party was put together by 5 AM and they began scanning the woods in the pouring rain, Justin tagging along. It was miraculous. She had escaped and it must’ve been planned. She had drugged the orderly and taken his keycard to get out of the hospital. Justin wondered what exactly was going through her mind.

* * *

Kelly had cheeked her pills for weeks prior to her escape. She knew Drew, the orderly, was nice and would sometimes talk to her and sit by her door if she felt afraid. Kelly had gotten close to him and had told Drew about how, during one of her last hospitalizations, she had almost been raped by another patient. She felt sorry for drugging him. Kelly walked up to the orderly station, told Drew she was hungry, and asked for a snack. When he walked away, Kelly quickly put the few crushed sleeping pills in his coffee cup, stirring it with her finger. She hoped her plan worked. She intended to kill herself with the remaining pills, but thought there was a chance as long as she was in the hospital they could somehow save her when she overdosed. She needed to get far away from the hospital and then she would take the rest. She wanted to be with nature when she died, anyway. Drew came back with some graham crackers and handed them to her.

“Will you sit by my door again while I try to fall asleep? I had a bad dream.” Drew smiled and said, “Sure, honey, but one day you’re gonna have to fall asleep without me.” She watched and hoped he took his cup of coffee. He did. Her plan might just work. Drew took the chair from her room without waking up her roommate and sat by the door as she got back in bed. She watched as he drank the coffee and waited a while before she came out of her room and said, “Drew?” He was fast asleep. She silently hoped he wouldn’t lose his job over this. Kelly took his keycard and walked towards the exit of the low security wing. She knew the way out from when she had been admitted. It was only a few turns and short hallways to get outside. Kelly just had to make sure she wasn’t seen.

She swiped the card opened the door and slowly walked down the hallway, listening closely for footsteps. The voices in her head were telling her to stop, but she didn’t listen. She just wanted to die. The Master was silently laughing behind them all. Kelly was doing what he wanted. It was only four turns to get outside and she had to somehow get past the security guards behind the counter. She ducked into a supply closet by the guards’ station by the door and stood on her tippy toes to peer out the window. She watched as one of the two guards there got up and went on rounds. How am I going to get passed the other one?

Kelly waited trying to formulate a plan, then. As she watched, she saw Justin come running in and talk to the guard. She briefly wondered why he was here so late at night. Justin and the guard both left running towards the low security wing, passing by the supply closet she was hiding in. She ducked so they wouldn’t see her peeking. It gave her the perfect opportunity; a clear path to the door. Kelly opened the door quietly and looked down the hallway as she saw the guard following Justin, rounding the corner out of sight. Kelly ran to the door and outside into the pouring rain. She ran towards the forest in her slipper socks, disappearing into the bushes and trees as lightning lit up the sky and thunder boomed.

She ran and the Master's voice was the only one now, crackling his horrible high-pitched laugh. Kelly ran as fast as she could in the wet darkness, several times running into trees, and somewhere along the way losing one of her slipper socks. She ran for what seemed like hours, only stopping to catch her breath a few times. The sun was beginning to rise, and Kelly could see better as there was dim light through the clouds. Slowly, the rain started to taper off as she got to a clearing in the forest with flowers all around.

This is it. Kelly walked to the center of the clearing and fell to her knees, drenched to the bone and exhausted. Slow raindrops fell on her face as she got the pills from her pocket. This is it, she thought, and began to cry and shiver. Kelly looked to the sky. She didn’t believe in a God, but now she was truly scared of an afterlife. Kelly threw her head back and yelled to the sky, “If there’s truly a God, stop me now!” She listened for a voice in her head, anything. Not even the Master was in her head at the moment. There was just the silence of the forest and the soft pitter-patter of raindrops.

* * *

Justin was still soaked, despite wearing a raincoat. They had been searching since the early morning hours and the rain was finally starting to slow down. Justin’s group was the furthest into the woods now. The search hounds had been having a hard time finding a trail or scent because of the rain. Around 6:30 AM, a dog started barking. Justin raced ahead to the dog and it’s handler. It was one of Kelly’s slipper socks. He knew they must have been getting close. Something in Justin urged him to move ahead of the group. He wasn’t a tracker and his relationship with nature wasn’t the best, but he moved on at a fast pace, something driving him in one direction.

Soon, he was separated from the group in the middle of the woods, alone, away from the grid pattern of the search. His watch said 7:13 AM and he was glad it was waterproof. He thought about retracing his steps and getting back with the group, but his pace quickened instead, moving him further away. He knew he was getting close, somehow. He could sense it, like someone or something was driving him further into the woods, helping him. Faster. Hurry, a small voice in the back of Justin’s mind urged and soon he was almost running through the woods. He tripped over a vine and fell on his hands and knees. His walkie blared, as they had finally figured out they had lost him as well but he paid no attention to it and got back up and continued running at a jogging pace. Justin heard someone—a female voice—yell in the distance, and he started in the direction he thought it came from. Weaving in between bushes and trees, his pace quickening with each step.

Justin broke through the trees into a clearing and stopped in his tracks. He saw Kelly in the center of it with flowers all around her, on her knees, her face to the sky. He caught his breath and slowly walked towards her. Kelly didn’t hear his footsteps till he was almost to her. She turned and saw Justin. There were tears in her eyes. Kelly thought he was the last person she wanted to see. She didn’t move or try to run, she just bowed her head and continued to cry. The pills were still in her hand. She hadn’t swallowed them yet.

“Kelly…” Justin began to say and took a few steps closer. He wrapped his coat around the shivering young girl and kneeled on the ground in front of her. Kelly continued to cry. Justin saw the multitude of pills cupped in her hands.

“Kelly, give me the pills,” Justin said.

“I came here to die,” she said. Justin nodded and said; “I know you want to die, that the Master or whatever evil entity wants you dead. You have to keep pushing on and hold onto the light inside you. It is a beacon in the dark and at times the world seems too scary to comprehend, but there are other people out there, lost like you, too, who hear voices. Everyone hears voices in their head. You’re not the only one in your struggles and you must keep faith that there will be better days. Don’t give up. Never give up. God has maybe granted you a gift as well as a curse, but it is how you use it that really matters.”

Kelly looked up into his eyes and saw tears in his, too. She handed him the pills and Justin tossed them into the shrubbery beside them. Justin said those words without thinking, like a higher power had reached into him. Even he didn’t have much faith or really believe in a God, but something compelled him to say it, and he meant every word. He hugged her tight, and it was the first time they had ever touched. It stopped raining and the sun broke through the clouds, and rays of light shined down on them.

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