At the beginning of the clinical trial I was ordered to keep all three patients very deliberately separate. When the trio arrived they were accompanied by five men – Preservers – carrying automatic weapons; not an unusual sight. The foremost Preserver handed me a succinct note and ordered I follow its instructions. His four colleagues had already begun distributing the patients, who were handcuffed and had bags placed over their heads, into three adjacent rooms on my ward before I had even finished reading. The five of them left as promptly as they had arrived.
After gathering my medical team we assessed the note, detailing that the patients had migrated from separate facilities and had never came into contact, and that they were suffering from Category II PZSD to an identical degree. We were to monitor them and document changes in their behaviour.
During the first few days, I simply listened. I had been provided with no details on these patients whatsoever; no case files or medical records of any kind, so I had to find out what kind of people they were and what kind of lives they had led before we could even commence helping them. They were disorientated and anxious given the nature of their arrival. It took time for me to persuade them to communicate and trust that I was only interested in solving the issues that led them through the door of my ward.
Eventually, they began to open up. I discuss them not separately but collectively with good reason; there was little to choose between their lives before the Blood Turned; employed, happy and healthy. Even afterwards they appeared to be coping well with the trauma of how our world had changed until, without any identifiable trigger, PZSD pushed them into this environment and handed them into my care.
I listened to the stories of what they were forced to do when the Blood Turned, how those close to them had to be destroyed for their own self-preservation and I listened to the nightmares they recounted and the images they could see in their rooms when alone. Even with my experience of over thirty years analysing patients, I can admit that I found the intensity of their recollections somewhat unnerving. I have treated patients with severe forms of post-traumatic stress and any nightmares that occur as a direct result of their traumatic event are never recounted in as much detail, and, I might add, with as much despair as those I heard from my three patients.
Subject A was a man in his mid-thirties. His face was gaunt, pale and malnourished, his hair greying and unkempt. It was immediately apparent that sleep deprivation was a grave concern. He engaged with me in an altogether defeated, but conformist, manner as we commenced with general questions on his condition. When I enquired as to what was impacting his sleeping patterns, he quickly became flustered. I finally coerced him into describing his dream experience in as much detail as possible.
He would only fall asleep after sleeping pills that he had been prescribed by his personal GP, or when his body collapsed under the weight of exhaustion. For the week prior to his arrival and for the first few days he spent with me his dreams had been identical.
He would be awake in his bedroom, his bed pushed tightly against the left wall. The sheets are thin and pulled tightly around his frame. Behind him is a window that runs almost the full width of the wall, with blinds drawn but chinks of light keeping the room from darkness. To his right he can see a chest of drawers, with portable TV and clutter of CDs, DVDs and various other items resting on top. Directly ahead of him is a rocking chair that lies empty, alongside a wardrobe that has a white dressing gown hanging from the left knob on the front. On the floor there are strewn clothes and magazines, a plate with the remainder of a late snack still glued to the edges, and a metal bin with various notes and paper stuffed into the bottom. In the opposite corner, the heavy bedroom door is ajar, with a beam of light shining through onto the wall. His descriptions struck me as not being from memory of how his room used to look, but very specifically how he had just seen it.
He sits upright, spins around and grabs the bin from the floor. He is violently sick, a horrible retching that burns his throat and tears at his stomach lining. He can feel the liquid becoming acidic and coursing through his insides as it continues to flow upwards. He cries and coughs until his chest aches. His eyes pour, but he squints through the tears to see his liver’s produce bubbling away at the top of the bin, yellow, bile. He feels susceptible, vulnerable, but his stomach muscles finally begin to contract as he returns the bin gently to the floor. He lays his head on the edge of the mattress, sucking in air, pulling the thin sheets underneath his chin, clasping his hands underneath. The room is now completely silent, and almost completely black.
He is overcome by dread, an unquantifiable fear. His eyes are transfixed by the bedroom doorknob. He begs for the handle to remain unturned. He doesn’t know why. His gaze is so intense that the walls close in around him but when he looks away to adjust his vision the walls continue to move towards him, contracting and contracting, then eventually a single blink returns them to their rightful place. He feels a phantom unease cloaking him, hanging over him, shrouding his headboard. His focus returns to the bedroom door with such intensity that the handle becomes an undefined mirage. He wants to fall asleep, to escape this decaying in his stomach, but of course he is already asleep. He brings his knees up into the foetal position. Sweat drips down his forehead. He feels more alone than he has ever felt, as if no-one else exists but him.
The bedroom door closes on its own, then clicks back inwards from the lock. There is now a shadow visible in the beam of light from the hallway. The door edges open further. The haggard, rotting face of a woman edges into view, features partially masked by the darkness of the room and the shadow of the light source emanating from behind her. As the door swings, her complexion becomes immediately clear. The woman is his wife. The woman is a Zombie.
One of her eye sockets is empty. Blood-soaked grey hair is pasted to her forehead. Our subject is transfixed but frozen in place on the bed, under the sheets, forced to watch the Zombie stumble towards him, long, rank gown scraping on the carpet as she moves. The crumpled creature marches manically forward and he can only force his eyes closed and curl inwards in anticipation of an attack. He waits, and none arrives. He opens his eyes and the Zombie is gone. The door is ajar once again with the familiar beam of light uninterrupted.
He suffers shallow breaths, and rolls over on his mattress to face the wall and close out the room around him until he awakes. He is then overcome by the sense of being dragged backwards, away from the wall, towards the floor. He describes a cold hand clasping his wrist, pulling strongly. He grabs a clump of the sheets with his free hand but the power being exerted flips him over. The Zombie is on the floor, reaching over the edge of the mattress, trying to pull him under the bed. He can’t scream or move. The abyss down to the floor arrives. He falls. He stares upwards at the ceiling. He is paralysed. The hand is still attached to him. It pulls him under, deeper into the dark. He can see the ceiling, the wardrobe, the TV, the light from the bedroom door, then nothing.
He then awakes with clumps of sheets in his hands, and an overriding awareness that someone is still holding him, dragging him around his hospital bed in this building. After a few seconds, it recedes, his breathing begins to regulate normally, and the sweat dripping from his face eventually ceases.