It must be said that I don’t expect this story to be in any way believed. That being so, it doesn’t trouble me one way or another. I’m not hoping to convince anyone or solicit any kind of sympathy. I’m only hoping that the act of writing will provide me with some kind of catharsis. Some way of processing everything I’ve seen. Maybe by the time I’m finished, I’ll have found some release from this,… moral terror, that I’ve been feeling.
It helps, I suppose, to start with the person I was before.
When I first left my childhood home, I was admittedly of poor experience in matters of love and intimacy. In fact, the first “real” relationship I had as an adult was also the first time I ever felt for sure “in love”.
Jane was a kindhearted person with a gentle soul. A pretty good match for someone as inexperienced and tender as myself. Of the two of us, I was perhaps the more hardened. There were times I thought of her as oversensitive or even naive, but I always kept such things to myself and thought little of them. Whatever flaws I may have seen were eclipsed by the sincere adoration I had for her.
I was intoxicated.
The sensations of physical affection, vulnerability, and explicit trust were new and magical to me. For weeks we spent nearly every spare moment of our lives together. We went out occasionally to movies, or restaurants, or any other place young couples are supposed to go. The best times though, were when we were alone. As soft, or perhaps as pitiful, as it may seem, I absolutely adored those occasions. I had never been more content than when it was only the two of us and nothing else in the world.
As the months began to pass I learned more and more about her. The more I learned, the more I realized how much tragedy she’d seen through her life. It soon became apparent that she was exceedingly more familiar with suffering than I was. I learned that she’d been diagnosed with severe depression at a young age, that she’d once been addicted to opiates, and that she’d been estranged from her parents for several years. She rarely went into details about her past, preferring to explain things only in the broadest sense. I quickly came to understand that there was a lot about her she wasn’t prepared to discuss, at least not for the foreseeable future.
The brief illustrations I had of her troubles left much for my imagination to piece together. Often, the things I imagined were so horrible I wasn’t sure if I’d be prepared to know the truth. I was concerned for her, and also curious despite my misgivings.
Perhaps my ignorance had blinded me initially, but once I knew about her past I began to notice things I had never previously perceived. Though she was almost always cheerful while we were together, I began to notice brief instances in which she would appear almost paralyzingly dispirited. On two separate occasions, she appeared to me with a face so pale she could have easily passed for dead. She drew no attention to this fact and acted as ordinarily as she ever did, but there was no concealing that there wasn’t a drop of color in her flesh. The matter cleared up within the hour, her face returned to normal, and I said nothing.
The third time this happened, I could no longer hold back my disquietude. Tentatively, I asked if she was alright. Her answer came with a most re-invigorated smile.
“I’m good,” she responded simply.
I could scarcely believe she was sincere.
“There isn’t any color in your face,” I said. “Did something happen?”
She looked at me strangely, as though pleased with something, and laughed casually. Her reply was not to worry and that everything was alright. When I persisted, she told me she had only just returned from therapy and that this was to be expected.
“What kind of therapy makes you so pale?” I asked.
“The only kind that’s ever worked for me,” she responded. “Trust me, I always come away looking a little sick, but I feel great.”
She refused to elaborate any further on the matter. For my part, I couldn’t imagine what kind of therapy could make someone feel good while making them look so unwell. However, her cheery attitude did seem genuine. Perhaps my concerns had been misplaced, though my curiosity was far from abated. I continued to question her but received no further information in return. At length, I was forced to concede that she was unwilling to share any more.
It was easy to restrain my concerns for a while. As long as we were happy together, I felt I could remain reasonably secure about her secrets. Several times afterward she appeared to me as pale and sickly as she had prior, but as she always seemed more elated than depressed, I said nothing. Eventually though, her moments of disparity began to tally, and I could hardly pretend I didn’t notice. It seemed her therapy, however helpful it may have been, couldn’t keep her from succumbing to depression time and time again. It was agonizing to see her in this state, and even worse to know there was nothing I could do. Anytime I ventured to comfort her, she would only respond with disinterest or tell me not to worry. It came to the point where I couldn’t stand it anymore. I couldn’t stand to watch her being miserable and feeling helpless to do anything about it. I told her that the next time she went to therapy, I wanted to go with her.
She smiled mournfully after I said it, and sighed.
“Would that make you feel better?” she asked me.
“It would,” I responded. “Whatever you’re going through, I’ll go through with you. You don’t have to suffer alone.”
Her lingering smile was one both pitiful and amused. My ignorance must have been all too plain for her to see, yet I’m sure she believed I meant what I said. In fact, I did.
“Alright,” she told me. “You can come if you want to.”
I was expecting to find a more professional looking establishment when we arrived, but as it turned out Jane’s therapy took place in a house. The reason for this, I was told, was that her therapist preferred to work in a more intimate setting. A lavish flower garden and perfectly trimmed lawn greeted us as we made our way to the door. The house itself was relatively charming and rather well-preserved compared to others in the vicinity.
Our host stood waiting for us as we entered. My initial thought was that she looked quite young for her profession. Her hair was curled in shimmering strands of blond and she wore a soft and glistening black dress. She and Jane greeted each other like old friends, sharing a warm and prolonged embrace on the spot. I was offered a handshake for my turn, at which point she introduced herself as Adreena. Just Adreena.
“I’ve heard a lot about you,” she told me smiling. “I can’t tell you how much good your relationship has done for her. She’s been coping much better than she ever has.”
I offered her a smile in return, somewhat reassured by her pleasant demeanor and attitude towards our relationship.
Jane and I were quickly led into the living room where the three of us settled into a matching set of chintz chairs. So far, the entire place seemed both lavishly decorated and exceptionally comfortable. I found no difficulty in relaxing there, the three of us chatting casually as though this were nothing more than a social outing. I’d assumed from her appearance that Adreena must have been around our age, but it soon became apparent that she must have been quite a bit older. I learned that she’d been practicing psychiatry in her home for several years, that she had worked briefly as a professor, and had even developed her own techniques in psychotherapy. My concerns for Jane rapidly evaporated as I came to understand that she was in the hands of a genuine prodigy.
At length, Adreena asked Jane if she was ready to get started, to which Jane animatedly consented. I was asked to remain behind as the two of them left to a more secluded room upstairs. In consideration of my solitude, I was left in the company of Adreena’s assistant who introduced herself to me as Aeris.
She too looked much younger than I would have expected. Her hair was jet black, with vibrantly red lips, and curiously bright brown eyes. She also wore a dress, this one a sparkling scarlet reminiscent of a film noir. So far, she and Adreena both seemed more like movie stars than therapists.
I’d assumed that Aeris must have been a student, but I was vastly mistaken once again. It turned out she already had a masters degree in psychology and had worked for two years as Adreena’s assistant.
“I was a good student,” she told me in response to my amazement. “I was even offered a university appointment after graduation, but I chose to work for Adreena instead.”
“Why?” I asked, brimming with curiosity. “Why be an assistant? Surely you could have accomplished more at a university.”
“Because of Adreena,” she said. “I may be talented, but I’m practically inept next to her. I don’t think I could’ve learned more anywhere else than I have here.”
“That’s astounding,” I replied earnestly. “I know Jane really depends on her, but I never imagined she’d be this impressive.”
“She does things no one else can,” Aeris said. “Her patients are lucky to have her.”
“What’s it like?” I asked eagerly.
Her cheeks flushed feverishly, as though she experienced a rush just thinking about it.
“Like nothing you’ve ever experienced,” she said.
I was reminded of the way Jane looked whenever I saw her after leaving these sessions. How depleted she appeared and how wonderful she reportedly felt.
“I can’t imagine,” I said at length. “I’ve never thought of therapy being so intense.”
Immediately after I said this, Aeris rose to her feet.
“Maybe you’d like to experience it for yourself?” she asked.
Her forwardness drove all other thoughts from my mind. At that moment her offer felt more than enticing, as though it were a rare treat in which I’d been privileged to indulge.
“Can you explain it to me?” I asked, doing my best to at least appear sensible.
“You’d understand better if we just tried it,” she said. “It starts by placing the patient in a state of deep trance. I assure you it’s very relaxing.”
“You can do that?”
“I learned from Adreena,” she said. “I could take you through the entire process right now if you want to.”
It wasn’t exactly what I had come for and despite my inclination to accept I almost refused. Some lingering sense of responsibility made me think I should refrain from getting involved, that it would be irresponsible without consulting Jane first. Then I remembered, as though bidden, that I’d promised her I’d go through whatever she went through. It seemed like the opportunity to prove myself had come.
“Alright,” I said with conviction. “I’ll do it. What must I do?”
Aeris’s smile grew immensely as she leaned forward, our faces so close that our noses nearly touched. Her eyes stared warmly into my own, welcoming my consent.
“Lay back,” she said, pushing a hand to my chest.
I did as she bade, laying as far back as I could in the chintz chair. Her face followed my own, hovering just inches away with her eyes completely level with mine. Within moments my breathing fell into synchronicity with her own deep rhythm. I felt my heartbeat slowing, palpable through her hand resting gently over my chest. When she spoke, it was barely louder than a whisper
“I want you to relax,” she said. “Let all your thoughts drift away, all your worries and fears fade, like smoke rising into the clouds. Be at peace with yourself. There’s nothing to worry about, no places to be or things to do. There isn’t anything here to hurt you, or control you, or make you do anything. There’s only you, me, and this place. Nothing more.”
My eyelids were already drooping. It was easy to listen, to follow her suggestions and forget everything else for the moment. The atmosphere had already left me more relaxed than I’d been before we arrived, and now I was practically soaking in it.
“It’s alright for you to close your eyes,” Aeris said. “Rest as deeply as you like. I’ll be here to watch over you, to guide you through this trance. Leave everything to me. Close your eyes. Rest.”
My eyes were shut. Already her words seemed more from a dream than reality. I could still feel her presence hovering over my body, enveloping me like a soft blanket, and I could still see her eyes as though they had become ingrained within my own mind.
“I’m here for you,” she said. “There isn’t any need to stay awake if you don’t want to. Everything is perfectly alright as long as I’m here. Let yourself go, your mind free to wander as it pleases. Sleep, my precious one. Sleep.”
Those were the last words I can remember hearing.
I don’t know how long I slept, but I know it must have been immeasurably deep. My mind seemed to waken in slow steps, as though it were only realizing itself for the first time. By the time I was fully conscious of my body once more, I discovered that I had great difficulty moving. Every part of me felt weak and unresponsive, as though drained of all energy. It took some moments for me to even remember where I was and what had happened.
When I opened my eyes, I found myself looking at a white and unfamiliar ceiling. My body lay flat on its back with my head propped only slightly above it. I wasn’t in the same chair I’d fallen asleep in. In fact, I wasn’t in a chair at all. I’d woken up in a bed inside a room I didn’t recognize. Evidently, someone had moved me while I was asleep. With some doubt, I wondered if this was meant to be part of the therapeutic process or if something has gone wrong.
Turning my neck was uncomfortable, almost painful. Clearly, my physical condition was in a delicate state. I willed myself to sit up, but the effort was both futile and excruciating. I couldn’t move my arms or legs, I couldn’t move my mouth well enough to speak, and I could feel cold sweat dripping down every part of me. It was simultaneously freezing and blistering warm. Every muscle was alive and screaming as though each one suffered from its own insipidness. The longer I was awake, the more I came to dread my condition. It wasn’t long before I began to question whether or not this was hell, or simply death. Sleeping had been better, I reasoned. Sleeping had been painless. All the while, there was no one there to help or comfort me in any way. I knew I was alone, that I was in ever increasing agony, and I could see no way out.
Then, I saw the needle.
The thick, long, silver needle sticking out of my arm. A hideous broad tube stuck out from the end of it, with dark red fluid flowing perceptibly from its source. My blood was being sucked.
However terrible this realization may have been, it was nothing compared to what I felt when I noticed the other bed beside mine. There was Jane, laying flat on her back with her eyes closed and an identical horrid needle protruding from her right arm. Both of us were being drained of our blood by some machine between the beds I couldn’t clearly see. Instinct took precedence over all else, and I began to scream. Hardly a sound came out and the endeavor tormented my every nerve, but once begun it was impossible for me to stop.
My pitiful shrieks did not go unnoticed for long. Within moments the familiar trim of a certain black dress wandered into my field of vision. I could only manage to gasp and gurgle feebly by this point. My listless babblings were met with a sigh and the most dispassionate voice of the prodigy Adreena.
“Aeris, come and look.”
I heard footsteps, followed by the appearance of the hem of a shimmering scarlet dress.
“What is it?”
The hem of the black dress moved closer and a sharp biting pain hit my neck. Adreena’s fingers felt like teeth puncturing my skin as she forcefully positioned my head back into place. I could see the pair of them staring down at me now. The one critical and the other coldly intrigued.
“I did everything you -”
“I know what you did,” said Adreena. “You put him under too quickly, you were impatient. Your hypnosis wasn’t strong enough because you didn’t take your time.”
I saw Aeris look away for a moment before cautiously stepping forward.
“You want me to -”
“No, I’ll take care of it. We can go over your mistakes later.”
Aeris bowed and turned away leaving the room. It was only the three of us now. Jane was still asleep and I had barely enough strength to keep myself breathing. Adreena’s fingers drummed irritably against my chest, each tap like a sharp piercing pin. I wondered if she understood how much the slightest touch tortured me, if she was idly toying with me like a cat would a mouse. At length, I watched her sigh and drag her fingers down my arm towards the needle. She pulled it out gently and began to treat my incision with rubbing alcohol.
“It’ll be at least another hour before you can move,” she told me. “Aeris is a bright girl, but she’s still a novice. Too young and eager to do a job properly.”
My incision disinfected, she reached for a cotton ball and some gauze from a nearby table and administered a bandage for me.
“It’s a shame for you I’m afraid. If the hypnosis had worked as intended, you need not have suffered. You’d have slept through the entire procedure and woken up feeling as refreshed as you ever had in your life. You’d have loved it, you really would. Jane could tell you how marvelous it feels.”
She gestured towards the other bed. My wounds now properly addressed, Adreena stood and sighed once more.
“She isn’t to know about this, understand,” said Adreena pointing towards Jane. “If I were you I’d keep my mouth shut about what I’ve seen here. If you tell her anything, it could jeopardize everything I’ve invested in her, and she won’t believe you anyway. I like my patients to be satisfied with the results and coming back happily. If you say anything, if you try to keep her from me in any way,… well,… just don’t let that happen.”
With one final stare, Adreena turned away and left my field of view. Already, my nerves were burning as life began flowing through them freely once more. With some difficulty, I managed to turn my head just enough to see what was going on beside me. Adreena had removed the needle from Jane’s arm and was attending to her just as she had to me. After she was finished, I saw her tenderly stroking Jane’s hair. Her voice changed to that of a gentle mother waking her child from sleep.
“Jane my dear, it’s time to wake,” she said.
I saw Jane’s body stirring faintly, her eyes fluttering between consciousness and sleep.
“It’s time to wrap this up, my dear. You did an amazing job today. You’ve really made a lot of progress. When you leave, you’re going to be amazingly happy. Absolutely, positively, cheerful and at peace. I know you will, Jane. You always feel so much better after your therapy, don’t you? I know how much you love it. You just hold onto that feeling until the next time we meet, ok? Take your time and rest before you get up. I know how exhausted you get after your therapy. Take as long as you need darling, there’s no rush. No rush at all.”
I watched Adreena lean in and place a gentle kiss on Jane’s forehead before turning away. In a few minutes, Jane’s eyes were fully opened and she was smiling contentedly. After a yawn and a feeble stretch, her face turned to see me lying next to her in the other bed.
“You did it too?” she asked, beaming appreciatively at me.
I don’t know whether I was still too weak or simply too appalled to talk back. All I know is I could only stare back with my mouth agape and no way of communicating to her what had just transpired.
“Isn’t it wonderful?” she asked. Then she giggled, laying her head back and softly closing her eyes, soaking in gentle bliss.