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The_Retribution_of_Mara_Dyer

THE FIRST FACE I SAW when I opened my eyes was my own.

The wall in front of the iron bed was mirrored. So were the walls to my right and left—there were five mirrors, or six maybe. I smelled nothing, heard nothing, saw nothing but me.

During the past several months¸ I hadn’t spent much time looking in mirrors, for reasons. Now that I was forced to, I couldn’t quite believe that the girl I was seeing was me. My dark, thick hair was parted in the middle, and it hung limp and dull over thin shoulders. My lips were almost the same color as my skin—that is to say, white. There were angles to my face that I’d never noticed before. Or maybe they hadn’t existed before. I was looking at a ghost, a shell, a stranger. If my parents saw me, they would never know who I was.

But they never did see me. That was part of the problem. That was why I was here.

“Yeah, we look like shit,” said a voice.

Said my voice.

But I hadn’t spoken. My lips hadn’t moved.

I bolted upright, looking at my infinite reflections. They stared back, looking panicked and wary at once.

“Up here.”

The voice was above me. I craned my neck—the ceiling was mirrored too. I saw my reflection in it, but this one, this reflection, was smiling at me. Even though I wasn’t smiling.

So. I’d finally lost it.

“Not yet,” my reflection said, looking amused. “But you’re close.”

“What—what is this?” A hallucination?

“Not a hallucination,” my reflection said. “Guess again.”

I dropped my gaze for a moment, glancing around the room. Every other reflection turned when I did. God, I hoped I was dreaming.

I looked back up at the reflection above me. The girl in the mirror—me, I guess—tilted her head slightly to the left. “Not quite. You’re in that kind-of-unconscious-kind-of-not space. Which should make you feel better about your sanity.”

Marginally.

“Also, you should know that there are sensors monitoring our pulse and heartbeat, so it would be better for both of us if you’d lie back down.”

I swung my head, looking for the monitors, but didn’t see any. I listened to the girl anyway.

“Thanks,” she said. “That Wayne guy comes in and examines us whenever our heart rate spikes, and he really creeps us out.”

I shook my head, the papery pillowcase crinkling with the movement. “Don’t say ‘us.’  That creeps me out.”

“Sorry, but it is us. I’m you,” my reflection said, arching an eyebrow. “I’m not exactly your biggest fan either, you know.”

I’ve had weird dreams. I’ve had weird hallucinations. But weird didn’t even begin to touch this, whatever this was. “So, what are you? My . . . my subconscious or something?”

“You can’t talk to your subconscious. That’s stupid. It’s more like—I’m the part of you that’s aware even when you don’t know you’re aware. She’s been giving us a lot of drugs—a lot of drugs—and it’s dulled our—sorry, your—awareness in some ways and heightened it in others.”

“ ‘She’ being . . . ?”

“Dr. Kells.”

The machine beside me beeped loudly as my heart rate spiked. I closed my eyes, and an image of Dr. Kells rose in the blackness, looming above me, so close that I could see tiny cracks in her thick layers of lipstick. I opened my eyes to make her go away, and saw myself instead.



“How long have I been here?” I asked out loud.

“Thirteen days,” the girl in the mirror answered.

Thirteen days. That was how long I’d been a prisoner in my own body, answering questions I didn’t want to answer and doing things I didn’t want to do. Every thought and memory was fuzzy, as if they were smothered in cotton; me, locked in what looked like a child’s bedroom, drawing picture after picture of what used to be my face. Me, extending my arm obediently while Wayne, Kells’s assistant in therapeutic torture, drew my blood. And me, the first day I woke up here, held captive by drugs and forced to listen to words that would change my life.

“You’ve been a participant in a blind study, Mara.”

An experiment.

“The reason you’ve been selected for this study is because you have a condition.”

Because I’m different.

“Your condition has caused pain to the people you love.”

I’ve killed them.

“We tried very hard to save all of your friends. . . . We just couldn’t get to Noah Shaw.”

But I did not kill Noah. I could not have killed him.

“Where are they?” I asked my reflection. She seemed confused, then looked at the mirror on my right. Just a normal mirror, I thought, but then the glass went dark.

An image of a girl, or something that had once been a girl, materialized out of the blackness. She was kneeling on carpet, her black hair falling over her bare shoulders as she leaned over something I couldn’t see. Her skin glowed bronze, and shadows flickered over her face. She was blurred and indistinct, as if someone had spilled a glass of water over a painting of her and the colors had started to run. And then the girl lifted her chin and looked directly at me.

It was Rachel.

“It’s just a game, Mara.” Her voice was scratchy. Distorted. When she opened her mouth again, the only sound that came out was static. Her smile was just a smear of white.

“What’s wrong with her?” I whispered, looking at Rachel’s flickering image in the glass.

“Nothing’s wrong with her. I mean, aside from the fact that she’s dead. But there is something wrong with your memory of her. That’s what you’re seeing—your memory.”

“Why does she look like—” I didn’t even know how to describe it. “Like that?”

“The flickering? I think it’s the candles. The three of us lit them before taking out the Ouija board. Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten that?”

“No, I mean she’s—she’s—distorted.” Rachel’s arms moved in front of her, but her hands were dipped in shadow and I couldn’t see what she was doing. Then she lifted one of them to her nose. Her arm ended at her wrist.

The girl in the mirror shrugged. “I don’t know. Not all of your memories are like this. Look left.”

I did, expecting the new mirror I was staring at to go dark too. It didn’t—not at first. I watched my reflection as the ends of my hair bled from dark brown to red, until it was red to the roots. My face filled out and rounded, and the eyes that stared back at me from the glass were Claire’s.

Claire sat up, and her image split off, separated from mine. She walked out of the white surgical gown I wore, and black threads wove around her pale, freckled body, until she was clothed in the dark jeans and puffy coat she’d been wearing the night we went to the asylum. The bright light in the mirrored room flickered and went out. Roots cracked the concrete floor beneath my bed. They grew into trees that scratched the sky.

Claire looked over her shoulder at me. “Oh my God. She’s freaking out already.”

When Claire spoke, her voice was normal. She wasn’t blurry, and she didn’t flicker or warp. She was whole.

“I don’t know what it means either,” the reflection above me said. “Jude is the same.”

My mouth went dry at the sound of his name. I glanced up and followed her gaze to the mirrored wall to my right; Jude appeared in it. I saw him standing in the center of a manicured Zen garden, with huddled, hunched people arranged around him like rocks. Jamie and Stella were among them. He held Stella by her shining black hair. I could see the veins in his hands, the pores in his skin. Every feature, every detail of him was clear. Sharp. I felt a flare of rage.

“Don’t,” my reflection said. “You’ll wake us up.”

“So what?” I said. “I don’t want to see this.” I never wanted to see him again. But when I looked again, there was a different image of him in the mirror. He was pushed against a bare white wall, a hand gripping his throat. The hand belonged to me.

I looked back up at the ceiling and the girl in it. I didn’t want to remember Horizons, or what had happened to me since. I looked down at my wrists, at my ankles. No restraints. “Just tell me how to get out.”

“They don’t need restraints to keep us chained up,” she said. “The drugs do that for them. They make us compliant. Willing. But they’re changing us too, I think. I don’t know how yet, but it has to mean something, that your memory of Rachel is broken but your memories of Claire and Jude aren’t.”

“What about my brothers? My parents?” And Noah, I thought but didn’t say.

As I spoke, images of each of them filled the mirrors around me. Joseph was wearing a suit with a pocket square, rolling his eyes at someone. Daniel was laughing in his car, making a face at me from behind the wheel. The image of my mother showed her sitting on her bed, laptop on her lap, her face drawn and worried. My father was sitting up in his hospital bed, eating a contraband slice of pizza. And Noah—

Noah’s eyes were closed, but he was breathing. Sleeping. One of his hands was curled in a loose fist by his face, and his T-shirt, the one with the holes in it, was twisted, exposing a sliver of skin above his boxers. This was how he looked the morning after I told him what was wrong with me. After we figured out what was wrong with us.

I couldn’t stop looking at them—the people I loved, laughing and talking and living behind silvered panes of glass. But as I did, I realized something wasn’t right. I looked closely at Noah. He was sleeping, not moving, which made it easier for me to finally see. His edges were faded. Blurred. I glanced back at the images of my parents, my brothers. Their edges were soft too.

“We’re losing them, I think,” the girl said. “I don’t know why, but I think Kells does, and I think she’s doing it on purpose.”

I was only half-listening. I couldn’t stop staring at the mirrors.

“I’m never going to see them again, am I.” It wasn’t a question.

“My sources say no.”

“You know,” I said to her, “you’re kind of an asshole.”

“Well, that would explain why we’re so popular. Speaking of, Jamie and Stella are here too. In case you were curious.”

“Have you seen them?”

She shook her head. “But Wayne mentioned ‘Roth’ once, and ‘Benicia’ twice, to Kells. And he talked about them in the present tense.”

I swelled with relief. My throat tightened and ached and I felt like I might cry, but no tears came. “What about Noah?” I blurted out the question before I could think about whether I really wanted the answer.

The girl knew. “Kells mentioned him once.”

But my question had gone unanswered. And now I had to know. “Tell me what she said.”

“She said—” The girl didn’t finish her sentence. Something hissed and clicked behind me, and she went still.

“What?” I asked. “What did she say?”

She didn’t answer. When she spoke again, her voice shook. “They’re here,” the girl said, and then she was gone.

 


UNTIL THAT MOMENT I HADN’

T been sure if I was awake or hallucinating. But now the sounds I heard seemed very real. Too real. The click of high heels on the linoleum floor. The rush of air as a door opened somewhere behind my head. I glanced at myself in the ceiling. Opened my mouth. My reflection did the same thing.

So I was alone now, definitely. I might not have been sure what was real and what wasn’t, but I knew that I didn’t want Kells to know I was awake. I squeezed my eyes shut.

“Good morning, Mara,” Dr. Kells said crisply. “Open your eyes.”

And they opened, just like that. I saw Dr. Kells standing beside my bed and reflected in front of me hundreds of times in the small, mirrored room. Wayne was beside her, large and puffy and sloppy, where she was slim and polished and neat.

“Have you been awake long?” she asked me.

My head shook from side to side. Somehow, I don’t know how, it didn’t feel like I was the one who shook it.

“Your heart rate spiked not long ago. Did you have a bad dream?”

As if I weren’t living a bad dream. She looked genuinely concerned, and I’m not sure I’d ever wanted to hit someone as much in my entire life.

The urge was sharp and violent and I enjoyed it while it lasted. Which wasn’t very long. Because as soon as I felt it, it thinned. Vanished, leaving me cold and hollowed out.

“Tell me how you’re feeling,” Kells said.

I did. It didn’t matter that I didn’t want to. I didn’t have a choice.

“I want to run some tests on you. Is that all right?”

No. “Yes,” I said.

She took out a composition notebook. My handwriting was on the front of it, my name. It was my journal, the one I was supposed to write my fears in, at Horizons. From days ago. Or weeks, if what my reflection had said was true.

“You remember this, don’t you, Mara?”

“Yes.”

“Excellent,” she said, and smiled genuinely. She was pleased that I remembered, which made me wonder what I might have forgotten.

“We’re going to work on your fears together today. G1821—the genetic condition that’s harming you, remember?—causes your ability to flare. Different factors switch it on. But at the same time, it switches off a different part of you.” She paused, studying my face. “It removes the barrier between your conscious thought and your unconscious thought. So to help get you better, Mara, I want to be sure I can prescribe you the accurate dosage of medication, the variant of Amytal you’re being given—Anemosyne, we call it. And in order to see if it’s working, we’re going to trigger the fears you recorded in this journal. Sort of like exposure therapy, combined with drug therapy. Okay?”

Fuck you. “Okay.”

Wayne opened a case he’d been carrying and laid out the contents on a small tray next to the bed. I turned my head to the side and watched, but then wished that I hadn’t. Scalpels, syringes, and needles of different sizes gleamed against the black fabric.

“We are going to measure your response to your fear of needles today,” she said, and on cue Wayne lifted a plastic-capped cylinder. He pinched the cap between his fingers and twisted it. The seal broke with a loud snick. He fitted the needle onto a large syringe.

“You’ve certainly seen plenty of these, considering your time in hospitals, and judging from your records, your instinct is to fight back when touched nonconsensually by medical professionals,” she said, raising her penciled brows a fraction. “You punched a nurse on your first hospital stay in Providence after the asylum incident, in response to being touched and forcibly held.” She looked down at a small notepad. “And then you hit the nurse at the psychiatric unit in the hospital when you were admitted after you attempted suicide.”

At that moment two images competed for space in my mind. The first one was sharp and clear, of me standing alone on a dock and taking the shining blade of a box cutter to my pale wrists. In the other image, blurred and soft, the outline of Jude stood behind me, whispering into my ear, threatening me and my family until the box cutter bit deep into my skin.

My mind clamped down on the second image, the one with Jude. I hadn’t tried to kill myself. Jude had just tried to make it look like I had. And Kells, somehow, was trying to make me forget it.

Wayne bent down then and withdrew something from below the bed, beyond my range of vision. He stood up, holding a complicated-looking system of leather and metal restraints. Shackles, really. Still no fear.

But then Kells said, “Just relax.”

Her words echoed in my mind, in someone else’s voice.

Just relax.

There was a little flip in my chest, and the monitor beside my bed beeped. I didn’t understand. Was it the words? A bead of sweat rolled down Wayne’s forehead. He wiped it away with his sleeved forearm, then moved his thick fingers to the crook of my elbow. My mind flinched and my muscles went tense.

Wayne seemed to feel it. “Are you sure—are you sure she’s stable?” He was nervous. Good.

Kells looked at my arm. “Mara, I want your body, your arms, and your hands to go limp.”

As soon as the words left her mouth, they did. I looked at myself in the ceiling mirror. My expression was slack.

“When you see something you’re afraid of, your mind tells your body to react. It tells your kidneys to release adrenaline, which makes your heart rate increase, and your pulse, and your rate of breathing. This is to prepare you to run away from, or to fight, the thing you’re afraid of, regardless of whether that fear is rational. In your case fear triggers your anomaly. So what we’re doing is making sure that the medicine we’ve developed to help you is doing what it’s supposed to, which is to separate your mental reactions from your physical reactions. The main goal, of course, is total aversion—blocking the pathway that transforms your . . .” She rubbed a thumb over her bottom lip as she searched for words. “Negative thoughts,” she finally said, “into action. Anemosyne doesn’t prevent your thoughts, but it prevents the physical consequences of them, rendering you as harmless as a non-carrier. Now turn her,” she said to Wayne.

Wayne swallowed, his jowls trembling with the movement as he took me by the shoulders and began to turn me over. At some point an attachment had been fitted to the bed that allowed me to lie on my stomach without craning my neck to either side. I stared at the floor, grateful that it too wasn’t mirrored. At least I wouldn’t have to watch.

My ankles were strapped down. He positioned each arm so that it hung over the side, then shackled my wrists together, like I was hugging the bed.

“Show her the syringe,” Dr. Kells said to him.

Wayne moved the needle in front of my eyes, letting me see it from every angle. My heartbeat sped up, and with it, the monitor.

“Should her heart be beating like that?” Wayne asked nervously.

“Just a reflex,” Kells explained. “Her body is still capable of responding to reflexes, but her emotions, her fear, can’t trigger her ability regardless of what she thinks,” she said matter-of-factly. “Consciously or subconsciously.”

Wayne lifted the back of the white hospital gown they’d dressed me in. I didn’t want him touching me, but I couldn’t do anything about it.

Then something scraped, slid toward me on the floor. A mirror. It showed me my face, which was white and bloodless, and in the ceiling mirror I saw my exposed back. I looked thin. Unhealthy.

I didn’t want to see whatever it was they were going to do to me, and that I could do something about. I squeezed my eyes shut.

“Open your eyes,” Dr. Kells said, and I did. I had to, and I hated it.

She angled the mirror, and I watched as Wayne took a cotton ball from the metal stand beside the bed and drenched it in iodine. I flinched when he rubbed it on my back.

He noticed. “What does that mean?”

“Just a reflex,” Kells said, her voice thin. Exasperated. “To the cold,” she said to him. Then to me, “If I were to hit your knee with a hammer, Mara, it would jerk. It’s just your response to fear that we’re trying to dull. If we’re successful, you’ll be able to live a normal, productive life unhindered by your irrational fears, and without having to worry that you will unintentionally will consequences that could be disastrous for the people you love and others.”

I vaguely remembered that I used to care about that.

“We’re going to extract some of your spinal fluid first,” Kells said, and Wayne positioned the needle closer to my skin. “This will only hurt a little.”

Every movement from that moment on was processed in slow motion. The needle as Wayne allowed it to hover just millimeters from my skin. The feel of cold steel piercing my skin, first a pinch; then, as it went deeper, a sting, an ache, a burn, and I wanted to thrash but I didn’t move, couldn’t move. Kells told me to watch my face in the mirror, and I did. It was still blank. A mask of skin hiding every feeling. My mind screamed but my mouth stayed shut.

There was pressure as the syringe sucked fluid from my spine. “You’re doing very well,” Kells said, her voice toneless. “Isn’t this better, Mara? There’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s just a needle and it’s only pain. Pain is just a feeling, and feelings aren’t real.”

After what felt like hours Wayne withdrew the needle, and the pressure stopped but the pain didn’t. Something cold and wet trickled slowly down my skin before Wayne pressed a piece of gauze to absorb it. My breath was deep and even. I didn’t gasp, I didn’t throw up. I’d thought those were reflexes. Guess not.

Wayne cleaned up my back, unshackled my wrists, unbuckled the straps from my ankles, and then gently, in a way that made my mind sick, turned me over onto my back.

“I know that wasn’t pleasant for you, Mara,” Kells said. “But despite your internal discomfort, it was a very successful test. What the drug is allowing you to do right now is separate your mental reactions from your physical reactions. The side effect, though, is also quite exciting.” She didn’t sound excited at all.

“I’m sure you wanted to react during that procedure. I’m sure you wanted to scream and probably cry. But thanks to the drug, your physical reflexes will remain intact, but they’re divorced from your emotions. In other words, with Anemosyne, if someone chops onions near you, or if an eyelash is stuck in your eye, you’ll still tear in response to stimuli. Your eyes will try to flush out the irritant. But you’ll no longer cry because of fear, or because of sadness or frustration. It severs that connection to prevent you from losing control.” She hovered over me. “I know it’s a strange sensation for you now, but you’ll adapt. And the benefit to you, and others, will be enormous. Once we settle on the appropriate dosage for you, we’ll need to boost your infusions only every few months. You’ll eventually be able to go home to your family, come to therapy with me, and have the normal life that you wanted, as this drug keeps working.” She reached out to smooth my hair in what I supposed was meant to be a maternal gesture, and I felt the urge to bite her.

“We’re going to give you another drug now so that you won’t even remember today’s unpleasantness. Won’t that be nice?” A smile snaked across her lips, but then her eyebrows pinched together. “Wayne, what’s the current room temperature?”

Wayne moved over to the left, pressing a spot on the mirrored wall with his thumb. Numbers appeared in the glass. Fancy.

“Seventy degrees.”

Kells pressed the back of her hand to my forehead. “She’s hot. And sweating.” She wiped her hand on the blanket.

“Is that . . . normal?”

“It’s atypical,” Kells said. “She hasn’t reacted this way to any of the previous tests.”

Previous tests? How many had there been?

Kells withdrew a penlight from her pocket and said to me, “Don’t squint.”

I didn’t squint. She shined the light into my eyes; I wanted to close them but couldn’t.

“Her pupils are dilated. I don’t understand. The procedure’s over.” Her voice wavered just slightly. “Wayne, the Amylethe, please?”

He withdrew something from the black case. Another needle. But he must have been sweating too, because he fumbled with it. It fell to the floor and rolled.

“Christ,” Kells muttered under her breath.

“Sorry, sorry.” He reached for a new syringe but stopped when the monitor by the bed beeped.

Kells looked over at it. “Her blood pressure’s falling. She’s having some kind of reaction. Could you be any slower?”

I’d never heard her sound anything less than completely composed. But looking at her now, her body was tense. The tendons in her neck were corded. I was probably imagining it, but I could practically smell her fear.

She was terrified. Of me? For me? I didn’t know, but I liked it.

Wayne clenched his jaw shut and unscrewed the cap on the syringe. He reached for my arm and stabbed my shoulder with the needle.

My vision swam, and my head went thick. “Take her to the examination room,” was the last thing I heard before I blacked out.

 


BEFORE


Date: 2015-01-29; view: 546


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