He recounts this tale with a face twisted in abject terror, for he claims that when he falls asleep he will undergo this ordeal all over again and there is nothing he nor I nor anyone can do about it. He claims that his wife, the woman chasing him down, has been getting closer and closer, making more physical contact with each passing evening. He claims that he can feel pain when she grabs him.
His story startled me, but I have encountered mental patients with exceptional imaginations before, who were perhaps too smart for their own good. I have seen people recite grandiose tales and concoct vicious rumours about other doctors, all as part of this ethereal universe in which they operate. Thus, I was sceptical as to what this was supposed to mean, or indeed what distinguished this particular case from some of the other Category II PZSD sufferers I had encountered.
I was then submitted access to Subject B, a woman of similar age to Subject A, with a similarly troubled expression and intangible stare. I proceeded through the obligatory basic line of questioning before approaching her dream experiences. She too admitted to being desperate to stay awake for fear of what she might endure should he fall asleep.
I asked her to describe her dreams. Tears formed in her eyes, but she proceeded.
She described being in her bedroom. She identified the darkness of the room and the chink of light coming from the door in the corner.
She described an overpowering sense of foreboding, the walls closing in, and then an interruption from a repulsive Zombie woman bounding toward her and the inescapable feeling of inevitability. She stated that the Zombie woman that she could see is her mother, who she had killed when the Blood Turned. The Zombie disappears momentarily then reappears from under the bed, dragging her under. She then wakes up; still overcome with the sensation that someone is holding onto her arm.
Other than individual elements such as the description of her bedroom and the nature of her relationship with the Zombie, her story was almost identical to that from Subject A. The description of the manner in which the Zombie attacked was uncannily similar and I immediately suspected that Subject A and B had come into direct contact and had concocted this tale. I had no rationale for why they would do such a thing in this environment; they were seeking our expert help to overcome what was quite clearly draining and damaging them mentally and physically. But there was quite simply no other explanation. I opted to avoid revealing to Subject B that which I thought I already knew, and instead waited for what my consultation with Subject C could reveal.
Subject C: a woman with similar build and complexion to Subject B. They could quite easily have been sisters, not only in the manner with which they presented themselves, but in some of the expressions and words used – everything down to the way they were verbalised made the women almost indistinguishable.
C sat before me and recounted a tale of a Zombie attack in her bedroom, this time from her brother, who would attempt to pull her under the bed. I allowed Subject C to complete her story, and I in turn conducted the remainder of my professional duties before exiting her room.
Upon leaving I swiftly accosted members of my medical team. In the little information that had been provided to me I had at least been assured that these three patients were in no way related nor had they ever met. Autonomy here was crucial if I were to ascertain any trends. I felt strongly that the trio quite obviously had plans to dupe us, for reasons I was still unable to detect. I requested thorough research into their histories to attempt to bring an end to their manoeuvre before it had properly begun. In the absence of any assistance from the Preservation, we’d have to covertly do this ourselves.
Over the next few days I held further consultations with all three patients and throughout that time their circumstances barely evolved. The same dream was described to me again and again, to the point where I would simply ask if their experience had been the same as the night before. The answer was always in the positive.
As my medical team continued additional background checks, I began to feel resentful towards the trio for dragging out this masquerade. They knew in my esteemed position I could not divulge the details of another patient’s case, but as I sat with them I couldn’t help but feel undermined as the days ticked past with the same corroborated ‘dream’.
That was, until, the ninth day of our assessment period. I was summoned to Subject A’s room where he appeared even more distressed than normal. His dream had progressed to something else, something much, much worse.
I was taken by surprise and his anxiety seemed legitimate. He had my full attention as he began to speak in a whispered tone, as if terrified that someone other than me might hear him.
He awakes in his bedroom, lying on the floor, among his clothes and paraphernalia, gazing directly upwards. He realises that the ceiling is moving closer to his face and as he shakes himself out of his stare he is floating, a foot or two from the floor. He feels total weightlessness as he glides across and lands softly on top of his bed sheets. For a single moment, he feels content, home. He then opens his eyes wide to find that the bed has rotated ninety degrees and is now facing directly towards the television.
The screen jolts into action. It flies through a mass of viewing at a tremendous pace. He can only make out heads, words, songs in minuscule snippets before the pictures are removed and replaced momentarily by something else equally forgettable. Eventually, the pace slows off as if the channel has been found and he can see herself on the screen, out in the street.
He blinks again and he has morphed into the version of himself he can see on the monitor. A cool blue tinges his vision, that non-descript shade that bathes everything just before sunrise. He feels that he is wandering aimlessly, without any inclination as to where he is supposed to be.
A person comes into view, about a hundred yards away in the middle of the street. There is no indication there is anyone other than him and the presence that is walking in a different direction. He feels an overwhelming urge to chase down the person.
He edges closer, describing his movements as clumsy and cumbersome. Eventually he can see that it is a woman before him and he moves closer and closer until he is standing directly before her. She turns to face him directly, aware of being stalked from over her shoulder. When their eyes meet the woman’s face is aghast, as the blood drains from the skin and her expression is preserved in time. She seemingly cannot move and is frozen into position before him. He moves in closer, smelling her, assessing her form, before producing a gaping maw that clamps down onto the woman’s neck, whose appearance and body stance remain unchanged as blood streams from the wound, soaking her clothing in red. Our subject is no longer in control of his actions. He is horrified by what he has done, yet returns to gnash at the exposed flesh and consume the meat. The woman remains unmoved but then, from nowhere, lets out a wretched scream that echoes through the desolation. He is then overcome by such a feeling of ambivalence towards the frozen woman that he leaves her, bleeding, and shambles away.