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He heard it before he felt it; chanting. Daniel turned his head, suspicious of himself, more so this place. Honestly, he had to learn to trust himself still, more than anything. Was he hearing shit or not?
Clara held pace and looked back at him. There was something strange in her eyes.
"You can hear it, can't you?" she asked.
Daniel blinked and swallowed, then shrugged.
"I didn't mean to?"
She thought for a second, eyes turned down, then seemed to reach a decision. Daniel felt a shiver go down his spine. There was something there and the tune of the chanting was tempting him closer. A goat?
But why? Was it communicating somehow?
He'd always been sensitive to the goats' way of communicating and that ability didn't seem to present itself in all humans, though they'd encountered it before.
"If you allow it, I would have you meet with one of ours," Clara offered.
Daniel narrowed his eyes at her.
"Does that mean I might be cleansed too? I'm... I'm not sure this... I don't think this is for me," he backed up.
"Being cleansed is an honor that doesn't befall everyone. It is a complete washing away of all sins, so that one might achieve ultimate happiness. There is no better place to be," she insisted.
He heard it then, a voice. Soft and soothing. It got interrupted rather harshly with images from outside, high up. The goatling. Bastard. It brought him back to the here and now.
"I can't. I can't just leave everything I have behind, I need time to think," he excused.
More people. They seemed to appear out of nowhere. Though they weren't exactly threatening, they were looming. The goatling didn't seem to do anything else. It seemed to just, hover and observe.
What could he and it do that Bell-goat hadn't though.
"I guess I can meet this person, at least?" he suggested carefully. "No harm in that, now is there?" Daniel offered keenly.
Clara nodded, then started and lead the way further into the gut of the buildings. Everything was white. White like the padded rooms he'd been stuck in for ages.
White on white and then some more white. It looked like he was the only speck of filth on that blank canvas. Was this goat trying to give these people enlightenment? Did it think it was doing them a favour?
Their paths diverged. The odd sensation went away, or at least, left for now. He felt as if it wasn't gone so much as buried. Hidden away deep in his heart.
Tristan was full of questions. None of them untoward, not yet, just probing. Bell answered them evenly, hiding his disappointment in the journalist's insistence on being inoffensive. If only his words could be misconstrued... but Tristan was good at his job. He didn't slip, not even as they entered the Great Hall.
"Whoa," he said, taking in the cavernous worship room with a slow turn. Bell allowed a small smile at his amazement. It was an impressive room, huge and wide and oh-so-white, the altar at the end dressed with this week's offerings, jams and pies, some winter gourds. He counted the benches, then looked back at Bell. "Does this fill up?"
"Not yet, but we're growing," Bell said modestly.
Tristan let out a low whistle. "That's a dream to have. So what happens if someone wants to leave?"
The smile tugged at his lips again, unbidden. "Want to leave?" he asked innocently. "Why would anyone want to leave?"
"Yeah, you know. If they decided it wasn't for them, or they... didn't fit in," Tristan suggested, pretending to be casual. Bell saw the glint in his eye, though, the impure thoughts.
"They have to be chosen to be inducted. No one chooses to leave, because it is cleansed here, and it is not outside." Bell started walking again, leading him deeper into the Grand Hall.
"But what if they got in trouble?" Tristan suggested.
"Trouble? There's no trouble here. What are you suggesting?" Bell asked, looking at Tristan from the corner of his eye.
Tristan sighed and looked at his notebook. "There's a woman here. Lilah? Her mother is worried about her. Hasn't heard from her in months. You have any idea what happened to her?"
"She's fine," Bell said simply. Lilah, of all people to ask after? This man was barking up the wrong tree.
"And another one. Man named David Hacine. Came in here and vanished. What about him?"
Bell turned down a dark hallway, a grin plastered across his face. "He's fine," he repeated. Some people couldn't handle being cleansed. Some people simply had to be destroyed.
And now it looked like it was Tristan's turn.
"Do you think it'd be for me?" Daniel asked. Clara gave him an even, bland look, one that seemed devoid of emotion. A shiver ran down his spine, though he betrayed little. Both of them could lie. Both of them were subject to others. Theirs was just more omnipotent than his.
"It is for our god to decide," she said ambiguously.
Daniel followed her. She showed him the lined up white buildings, all set out neatly in a row. Then there was the hill, with what Clara called 'the Grand Hall'.
And then he caught sight of him: Bell-boy. At first Daniel thought it might be his pour mind on another bender, but no. It wasn't. Contrasting sharply with the white clothes he was wearing, was Bellwether.
Daniel grinned, but he knew better than to react too strongly. Whatever they did here, Bell-boy had fallen to their influence. It was enough to know the man was alive and well, for now. For now.
It was more than he'd hoped for.
Daniel hoped to find out some of the white place's inner workings, to see where the buildings were, to expand on his plan. He hadn't hoped to find Bell-boy up and able.
Bell was giving another man a tour. It was sorely clear that neither of them belonged. Their clothes were too outspoken, even though his were fairly bland and basic. Given he'd gotten most of his for free, Daniel wasn't surprised.
"So your god, I hear he cleanses people. How does that work?" Daniel pitched. Clara seemed unmoved by the questions he posed.
"There is a special ritual for those who are chosen to be cleansed of their impurities," she said.
Daniel looked at her evenly. Her gaze was elsewhere. He'd seen patients on his ward who were more with it than her. Not that it mattered.
"How do you know who is chosen?"
"Those who wish to be cleansed will find us," Clara explained. She motioned for him to take a certain hallway and Daniel complacently followed.
It was dangerous, he was well aware of that. He wasn't quite stable yet, still under care, in fact, and he only had one more day to get back before people would notice too. He was still dependant on the drugs to get him through the day.
The goatling had thought it a good time however, so Daniel decided to trust in its judgement.
The journalist was a slender, tall man with a rakish hairdo and a trim vest. Against the white-on-white-on-white backdrop, he was a splash of rainbow color, a blot of dark, his red vest like blood, his black pea-coat a blemish. Bell was there at the door to greet him, as they sent someone to receive all visitors.
"Welcome," he said, holding out his hand. "My name is Bell. Welcome to Haven."
"Haven? That the name of this place?" the reporter asked, straightening his hair. "I'm Tristan, by the way. Tristan Balestworth."
They shook hands. The man's hand was soft, for a man's, unlike the men in Haven, whose hands were all rugged from working outside to grow their own crops.
[i Such soft hands. He turned them over in his, marveling at it, the flab of the arm, the weakness, the softness. How could someone have such soft hands?]
He shook himself. What was that?
"So why're you here?" Tristan asked, heading into the complex. Bell followed at his heels, ready to steer him away from any dangerous areas.
"The same as anyone else. For healing," Bell said patiently.
"Yeah? What ailed you?" he asked.
"My heart," Bell replied.
They walked past the houses, the white buildings all in a line. Lilah was speaking to a friend, but she turned and smiled as he walked by. He smiled back.
"That your girlfriend?" the journalist asked, giving him a nudge. "She come here first, or you?"
"We came together," Bell said. "But she didn't have to be healed. She came for me."
"Well that's sweet," Tristan said, in a voice that indicated he didn't care. He pointed up the hill, to the building that dominated the whole complex. "What's that?"
"The Grand Hall," Bell said. A little of that smile returned, the impure feelings swirling within him, before he managed to clamp it all back down. "Would you like to see inside?"
"Sure, why not?" Tristan said, acting uninterested, as though it wasn't the whole reason for him to make this visit. It was fine. Bell could play along.
"Right this way," he said, gesturing the way up the main street.
Clara was on her way there, leading someone else on a tour of the facilities. Bell started to raise his hand in greeting, then hesitated. Something about the man she was leading... what was it? It made him feel... wrong. Impure.
He behaved. He kept his head down, through the haze of the drugs, Daniel tried to cling to the knowledge that he was doing this for Bell-boy. It was Lenny, on occasion, who did the obedience-parts. Daniel knew, but he doubted Lenny did. Shit was fucked up more so than when he started the whole process, but that couldn’t be helped.
He got smart. Whenever they dropped an impatient clue on what he needed to do in order to reclaim some measure of freedom, he would patiently re-integrate the desired behaviour into his daily routine. He would dance, like a puppet, to their tune. The frequency of the episodes tapered down, which helped a great deal in pretending to be normal. Being in control was ‘normal’.
Being with the two of them became normal again. Lenny dealt with the boring shit, the group-talks and the cafeteria. He dealt with the psychiatrist and the drugs and it almost felt as if they were working together. The doctors started to realize what worked and what didn’t too, so some of the drugs were brought back to a minimum to suppress the hallucinations and auditory dysfunctions. The goatling remained.
It was real, so of course it remained. Daniel decided that was okay. He’d grown fond of its presence, of its almost demeaning and derogatory comments and flashes of ‘memories’. He was given some liberties at some point; to go outside, out of the facility, to try and re-integrate, find a job maybe. He was living under supervision in a room at some point, had to report in every morning, but he had the nights to himself. That’s when shit got interesting. He debated getting a beer on the first night, but decided no.
He wanted to be as sharp as he could be, given the combination of drugs they still had him on. Daniel started working out, rebuild the muscle that’d been lost over the course of his stay. He started running to regain his stamina, but more importantly, he worked on a plan to get into the facility that didn’t involve breaking down every possible door standing between him and Bellwether.
With an air of confidence, he stepped into the building. The culmination of his planning had boiled down to a very simple plan: ask.
“Good afternoon, mister Jones,” the lady in white greeted him.
Daniel put up a kind smile. He looked the part, for once. Freshly washed, clothes that fit him and weren’t tattered or worn. Daniel had shaven, even his hair was cut. He looked healthy, from the facility’s food and the tight regiment they had him on.
“Pleased to meet you”
“Clara,” she replied, and guided him further into the building. “We were surprised by your request. Not many take interest in our sanctuary.”
“I’m sure they don’t. It’s quite remote,” Daniel made conversation. “I couldn’t find much about your…uhm,” was sect too fierce a word? “Group.”
He looked around.
“People seem happy here, more people should know, don’t you think?”
“It’s not for everyone,” Clara replied simply.
It was a simple life. Quiet.
He kicked a stone as he wandered the white complex, all the white people going about their lives. The roughspun white cotton he wore himself still felt heavenly on his skin after what felt like an eternity of torment. The breeze was a soft embrace, the icy cold of winter, even the rough wool jacket; they all felt extraordinary. He breathed out, and his breath clouded in front of him, as white as everything else.
With snow cloaking the hills, it felt almost oppressive how white everything was. They were cleansed, Elsie said. White was the color of purity. They had been cleansed, so it had to be white. But would it kill to have a little color, a little dirt? A little... imperfection.
Lilah was perfect. She was beautiful, and blonde, and sweet to him. Check, check, check. But there was nothing between them. He could remember... things. Passionate nights stolen in hotel rooms. The details were omitted, blanketed over--impure, he supposed, probably too kinky--but the deed was there. So why did he feel nothing for her?
The bell rang. He turned towards it and followed the stream of white-cloaked people up the white road towards the white complex. Bell. His name. Something about that triggered... something. It felt like trying to scratch an itch that was just out of reach. What was it?
When Elsie preached, all of that was washed away. Her voice was all there was, soothing, reassuring. It would all be alright. It always was in the end.
"Bell," Elsie said, after service. They were alone in her office. It wasn't his first time there, though it was a rare honor to be alone in her presence. "I need you to do us a favor."
"Anything," he said. She had healed him and purified him. Nothing was too much.
"A journalist has been poking around. Sticking his nose where it doesn't belong." She shifted on the desk and poked at a piece of paper. "He'll be here tomorrow. I trust you'll know when to make the call?"
He nodded obediently. He knew. It took some effort to keep from smiling. He hoped the man overstepped. The roses would need fertilizer, come spring.
"Have you felt any impurities inside yourself?" she asked, eyes flicking over his face. He kept his expression neutral. Now was not the time. He could think about it later.
"Of course not," he lied. He didn't want to go back in the Room of Sin.
"Good. I would hate to lose you," Elsie sighed. "Our god is rather fond of you, after all. He's done so much for you." She gestured. "Now go, in the grace of our god."
Bell nodded and retreated. Only when the door closed behind him did he allow himself a smile.
Thinking it and doing it were two different things. Daniel couldn't control the hallucinations, couldn't control the episodes and he couldn't control what drugs they gave him either. Physically he got better. The ease with which he shook the cold was a sharp contrast with how long it took for him to stabilize mentally.
Daniel looked around the room. People were gathered there, who like him, all had mental issues of some type. He felt ill at ease. He shouldn't be here right now. Should be finding Bell-boy and getting him out. Every now and again he tried to reason with the goatling for it to spy on the white people, but it merely rejected his requests.
"...Ray? Is there anything you would like to share today?"
Daniel blinked up at the woman, slightly confused. He hadn't been paying attention to any of it. His dull eyes merely flicked from person to person, before he shook his head.
The woman seemed undeterred.
"Jasper, why don't you start today?"
Jasper didn't really hesitate. Daniel felt like they were getting the lucid end of the spectrum of drugs they distributed, while he was on the heavier duty things.
Not that he minded much. As long as he kept his head down and checked his temper, people tended not to care overly much. Re-introduction into society was going to be a fun game, but he was sure someone would eventually lose their patience and tell him exactly what was expected of him to get out.
Daniel found himself strolling down the hallways, numb. He couldn't be here. Impatience beckoned. He needed to get out, find Bell.
The words from that night haunted him however.
What if he wasn't real? With each delusion he suffered, with each episode, he became less and less certain of what he'd been doing. What if Bellwether had never been there? What if the goatling was just some hallucination?
The story was ridiculous, once he tried putting it into words. Daniel wasn't sure whether he had. His psychiatrist might be able to tell him. Fortunately the man was bound by his oath.
Daniel went back into his room and sat on the bed.
Dylan wasn't there yet, so he had the room to himself. Not that it mattered much. He sat down and stared at the wall, numb. Fucking drugs were messing with his head.
It was a quiet day. The worst kind.
He didn't know if it was day or night, but he had decided this time was day. It was the only way to keep sane; to decide things on his own, with no outside clues. There were no outside clues aside from the voices, and there were none right now. But it was day, because he had decided so.
The pain wasn't as bad as usual. There was something different about it, though, so it occupied his attention. Something about... the way it was moving. Moving? He shifted and groaned, and heard his own voice. Experimentally, he moved his jaw. He could. He could move. Just a little, but it was wearing off at last.
He could blink next, not that it was meaningful, as dark as the world was. Then shift, tilt his head. If anything, it made the sensation of claustrophobia more intense, being able to move but only so far. He struggled, fighting against the dark strands. They flexed with him, his head and neck not able to put up much of a fight.
The feeling spread downward, the return of sensation. His shoulders, then his chest, that one coming away with a bone-deep ache and a sharp pull. When his arms returned to his power, he started to struggle in earnest, hooking his fingers into the filament as soon as they were under his power.
"Bell!" a familiar voice exclaimed. His fingers punched through the cocoon, gaining strength. Light poured through for the first time in ages. He blinked, struggling to make sense of the shadowy forms as his eyes had something to look at again for the first time in forever. A blonde woman. Long hair hanging around her face.
Then the black fabric split down the center, and he fell to the ground. The blackness cushioned his fall, bouncier than he'd expected. He laid there for a second, stunned. He was free. At last, he was free.
Cloth settled over his shoulders. He braced for pain, but all it felt like was cloth. One hand feathered the edge, marveling at the sensation. He could feel something that wasn't pain. He... wasn't in pain. It felt so good. Like his brain was finally clear for the first time in ages.
"Let's go home," Lilah said, holding out a hand.
Bell took it and nodded. Back to the rose bushes and the annoying neighbors and the loud kids. Back to the life he'd always known.
He felt sick. Worry at at his gut, making him restless again. Daniel knew he had to get out, but alongside a new mixture of medicine meant to 'handle' his outbursts and obstinate behaviour, he was now also sporting a cold. Lovely. He sat at the dining-table, pushing his food around. Alfred came up to him with a tray, a stupid smirk on the man's face. He was here to deal with his depression. Daniel looked up at the guy.
"You look like death warmed over," Al greeted him.
He'd been in solitary for the days after his attempted escape.
"They give you the good stuff again?" Alfred tried making conversation. He nodded at the food, that was going nowhere, but painted a rather interesting art-piece on his plate. Daniel rested his elbow on the table and propped up his head.
"Maybe," he admitted. "Fuck if I know."
"Why do you keep trying? Why not just focus on getting better? I hear walking outside is easier," the older man chuckled.
Daniel rolled his eyes and sighed out.
"I don't know. I feel like it'll take too long," he admitted. "Just wanted them to babysit my sorry ass for a few months, not change my meds around."
"You seem a lot more with it than when you first came in, my boy, you just need to give them the benefit of the doubt and you need to give yourself a chance," Al lectured him.
"Is that working for you?" Daniel countered.
The man laughed at that.
Murphy joined them not long after. Daniel took a back seat and watched them talk. After a while he grabbed a tissue and blewhis nose. Typical. He rested his head on the table and just watched people shuffle by with their meals. Nurses got them up and out in sections, so that there'd never be too many 'difficult' patients running around at any given point in time.
Daniel closed his eyes.
A hand to his back roused him from what to him seemed like a perfectly reasonable nap.
"Let's get you back to your room, Ray," a nurse addressed him. Too tired to fight it, Daniel got up and shuffled along with the man, back to their dorms. He still wanted to get out, but maybe Al was right and he needed to be patient. Pretend to be good and cooperative.
And then there was a second voice.
At first he thought she was talking to someone else, someone close to him, but not him. "It's me, it's Lilah," she said, but he didn't know any Lilahs. Still, he listened, because the more voices there were, the less pain he had to bear.
She talked about her life. Her friends, her house, the failures and successes with her garden. "You remember the one, that pesky rose bush," she said, and Bell knew she wasn't talking to him. But it was still nice, to hear her voice , to have something else to drown out the pain.
"It's been so long since you went in, Bell," she said one day, and he was so startled he forgot about the pain, forgot where he was, and just listened. "Sometimes I worry... that you won't remember me. It happens, sometimes. People get forgotten. Families break apart."
The sorrow in her voice made his heart break. Worse, because he didn't remember her. No, he didn't know her. He'd first heard her in here! Or... had he? He frowned. He could remember a woman... with blonde hair and a lab coat. Was that Lilah?
"So, um, I want to... to tell you about me, so you don't forget. I'm tall, and blonde, and um, my name is Lilah, if you forgot. We... we were coworkers, when we came to Haven. I was a researcher. You were a janitor."
A flash of memory sparked, playing out in front of his eyes. A white-washed facility, like this one, but different. A woman in a lab coat, and him pushing a janitor's cart.
"We went on a trip together," she said, and he saw the car, a beat up, dingy thing, caught a flash of blonde hair through the window. "And we found Haven. But you were hurt. We needed to cleanse you. So... so here you are."
Something wasn't lining up. Bell tried to put it together, but when he thought, when he let himself drift from her voice, the pain was waiting. And she was still speaking. So he listened instead.
"It's so painful, waiting for you," she continued. "But I will. I will, Bell. I'll wait as long as you need me to."
Silence. Bell struggled internally. There was something wrong. He had to... figure it out. But it hurt, it hurt, the pain was too much of a distraction, too loud. He couldn't think straight.
He was gone.
Lilah returned every day. The more she came, the more he was certain: he did know her. He loved her. They'd been across the country and back, and she was the only one who'd put up with him. He could remember the rose bush and her tiny house, her annoying neighbors and the way the kids would scream at all hours. Sometimes he could remember someone else, but every time he tried to chase the thought, he lost the thread of her voice. He couldn't bear to lose that, so he gave it up over and over and over again, until even he was convinced that it was just some dream, not reality but a figment of his mind.
He'd been restless all day. Rain came down in sleets, beating down on the streets as it was whipped by the wind. Daniel ran; bare feet against the grass and tiles of their yard. Lights showed him roughly where he needed to go, but they also betrayed his location. And then there was the fence. He'd thought about that one. Even though it was electrified, the goatling had helped him find a weakness in the fence.
A voice. A familiar voice.
Daniel paused. His hair was plastered against his face, stringy and heavy with rain. He could barely see. He raised an arm and tried to wipe the rain from his eyes, but it was useless. The flimsy clothes he wore were already soaked through.
"Please stop, Ray!"
"I have to go, I have to find him, I promised I'd come find him." There was an edge of desperation laced in his voice that he loathed existed.
"You're going to look for a man that hasn't once shown up to see how you're doing?"
Daniel hesitated. Bell-boy was trapped, probably. He needed his help, that's why he hadn't come. They'd promised each other though. He'd promised Bell-boy he'd come and find them. Daniel decided to run again. He started towards the weak point in the fence.
"How do you even know he's real?" the doctor cried out.
His family hadn't come either. Of course they hadn't. He wasn't even called Ray. Daniel knew that much. He knew who he was and who he wasn't, even though these people tried to make him believe otherwise. Before he came to the facility, he'd made sure to park the car somewhere obscure, made sure he'd buried his papers and everything that linked him to the past. As long as he could find those things, he knew that everything he thought was right, that all of his memories were real.
"You're not well, Ray," the man tried a second time.
Other people had joined the man. Daniel hurdled himself at the fence. Two men pounced on him, pulling him off and wrestling him down into the cold, soaked grass of the facility's garden. He fought back.
Or tried to. The cocktail of drugs they had him on was still hampering his ability to throw these guys off. The goatling was watching from a tree. It cawed mockingly.
He hadn't even felt the needle-prick, but he sure as fuck did feel its effect. The sound of rain slowly drowned out into white noise. The horizon and the fence he'd tried to climb were contorting in interesting ways. His muscles grew slack. Strong hands hoisted him back up.
He couldn't make out what they were saying, but Daniel was aware they were taking him back inside. Back into the light.
He went between unconsciousness and pain, one second screaming into the cocoon, the next limp. It wore on him. On his mind, on his body. He felt like he was melting, no up and no down. There was the claustrophobia of the cocoon one moment, the pain as the strands tightened, digging deeper. Then there was nothing. Pain. Nothing. Pain. Nothing. Pain, nothing, pain, nothing, pain nothing painnothingpain--
There were voices. He couldn't register them at first. The pain kept his attention. But then it began to become normal. He could compartmentalize the pain, put it away in a corner of his brain and move on, outside of his body, beyond it. It didn't work the first time, or the second, or the fiftieth. He always remembered that the pain [i was] real, and then it came back, but eventually, eventually, he figured it out. How to be outside of himself and within himself. How to listen.
There wasn't much at first. The pain was like static. All he could hear past it was sound. Distant noises. Humming.
Words started to filter through. [i ...heal... sinners... remake...ger, better... ] Then sentences. Sometimes there were friends, there to speak to the cocooned ones and ease their worries. Sometimes there were lectures, or updates on the colony, or songs. He learned the name of the city: [i Haven]. The name of the leader, the white-haired woman: [i Elsie Craig].
"You will be cleansed here," she said. He had learned to recognize her voice.
[i I am, but does it have to hurt so much?]
"It will hurt, but the pain is the cleansing fire, stealing away your sin and weakness. You will come out stronger."
[i I'd better.]
"You are my lambs, and I will mind you. Each and every one. You will come through. You will survive."
[i Her lambs... what the hell.]
"Give in. Let the pain wash over you, and through you, and past you. And when it has burned you to ash, you will be reborn from the ash, perfect, cleansed. A lamb, innocent, newfound. And I will protect you."
He found himself repeating her words, circling them endlessly in his head. At first he resisted it. Tried to think his own thoughts, tried to ignore her words. But it was so hard. So much effort to ignore the pain, and fight it, and ignore her words. It was easier to just listen passively. Let the words flow through him, and past him. Why fight, anyways? She was only trying to help.
The words circled and circled until he didn't remember what he'd thought, and what she'd thought, and which ones were his own voice and which were hers. Until there was nothing but her voice. He found himself longing for her voice. It was the only distraction from the pain, the only break from the silence. Even hearing about whose garden was growing, about the mundanest events, was a blast of relief, another second the static of pain gave way to the strong signal of her voice. The pain, the pain, he could bear the pain, could box it away, but only when she spoke did it all blast away, vanish into the aether as though there were no pain at all.
"You will be cleansed here."
[i I will be cleansed.]
"You will come out stronger."
[i I will come out stronger.]
"You will be my lambs."
[i I am your lamb.]
Restraints. Daniel snorted. Sure. He'd dealt with those before. Just one slip -there, right there. Not pull, but give, then underneath and voila. He reached for the other restraint buckling down his wrist. Daniel sat up, reeled, dizzy from the medication meant to keep him relaxed. It was only temporary. With practised ease, he undid the restraints around his ankles. But then, there was still the door. And there'd be a warden watching him, probably already- shit. The door opened.
Two people stepped inside.
"Think you're clever, Jones?" the left one called out. The bigger guy hung behind, blocking the door.
"Come on, we don't want to have to sedate you again, do we?"
Good cop, bad cop.
"He don't even know where he at." Daniel's eyes shot to the man at the door. His arms were crossed. He swung his feet onto the floor, but the bed was pretty high up and he staggered back into it, dizzy. His knees were meek with drugs, chest heaving to compensate.
"Easy, Ray, they've given you something to help you relax, so relax," the smaller guy advised.
"No, no, don't you get it? I need to go," Daniel protested with a slight slur.
Hands on his arm. Daniel looked up.
He was outside. A blink. Back in the doctor's office. People were talking to him. He was watching Bell-boy go into the building. Daniel moved to get to Bell, but he was stood in a hallway. Hands were on his arm again, holding him back. Floor against his face, rough hands restraining him. He took the small plastic cup, filled with several brightly coloured pills. Daniel moved down the isle in the dining area. He sat at the table reading the newspaper.
Nothing was in chronological order no more.
"Who is Bellwether, Ray?"
"I- he's...he went in there," Daniel stammered.
"You've been talking a lot about this man, Bellwether? Is that his real name? Does he even exist, Ray? Do you have proof?"
"The bird, it's the bird," he defended lamely.
"So the bird is sentient? And you've been travelling with a man called Bellwether?"
"It's not a bird. Not really. He's not really a man either," Daniel chuckled. It was so wrong. Everything was so messed up.
"Who is Lenny, Ray?"
"Who is Daniel?"
They led him inside. There was a cavernous room with the usual benches and pulpit, an oddly-shaped altar at its end. He barely registered it through the pain. A long white hallway came next, one that seemed to descend into the earth. He stumbled along it, held up by the two attendants. The hallway sloped down and down. Was there a goat down here? Was that why they were heading into the earth?
It got warmer as they descended. More humid. Like they were walking into the belly of a beast. The white became grey, became black. And then they stood before a door. Dark iron towered over him, blocking the way forward.
There was no knob, no lock. The white-haired woman lifted her hand to the metal, and it opened silently. Inside was pitch black. Utter darkness.
No. There was something. Motion. Light from the hallway glinted across rounded surfaces, blackened walls. The whole interior was filled with.. with... was that... goat-stuff?
The attendants released him and withdrew. The pain had faded; Bell managed to keep his feet. He staggered forward, into the room. Goat-stuff pulled at his feet and clung to his boots. He looked down. It was everywhere. The whole room. What was this?
"Undress," the woman said. Bell glanced at her, and she and the attendants both turned away. "You need to be bare before the Room of Sin before it takes your pain away."
[i Okay...] Bell thought. Kooky weirdos. Whatever, though. If this was what it took, he'd get naked. He stripped down quickly, tossing his clothes aside, then cupped his hands over his vitals. "Now what?" he asked.
"The Room will take you," the woman said soothingly.
Tendrils shot from the walls, the ceiling. They wrapped around him, lifting him off his feet. Bell yelped and fought, struggling. The thing barely noticed. The tendrils wrapped tighter, pulling his arms to his body, binding his feet together. He was being cocooned. Mummified.
Behind him, the lady and the attendant knelt. "For take this man, and fix his ills," they droned in sync. "We give unto you his fear, and his weakness, and his sin, so that you shall purify him and make him whole. For take this man..."
"Let me go!" Bell screamed. Then the tendrils covered his mouth, and he was silenced. The last thing he saw before his eyes were covered were other human-shaped bundles hanging from the ceiling, all of them still and silent. [i What the hell is going on here,] he thought.
The tendrils bit into his body, worming under his skin. He tried to scream, but there wasn't enough air. Tried to fight, but he had no strength. No air. No strength. They bit into his arms, his chest, his stomach, wormed through his eyes and down his throat when he tried to bite. There was nothing but pain, pain and darkness and the distant chanting, until even that swirled away to nothing.
His sleeves were slightly too long, the sweats ill-fitting. Daniel let his gaze drift around the room. People. All of them people he didn't know. He hadn't been allowed in the recreation room yet, until today. Daniel wasn't sure what they wanted him to do there. The nurse, helpful as ever, had laid out his options; read a newspaper, or watch television, read a book or play a board-game with one of the other residents. They called them 'residents'. As if they lived there. Sure, he paid quite a hefty rent. He was pretty sure they had him on some good stuff to make sure he wouldn't hurt anyone.
They'd marked him as violent before.
Daniel shuffled over to a seat and sat down, numbly staring ahead. What the fuck was he even doing in this shitty place?
He ought to find Bell-boy. Get him out of whatever shithole he'd walked into that day. Daniel wasn't even sure how long ago that'd been. Time was fickle. The goatling kept explaining that their linear perception of time was one of humanity's greatest limitations and that it was difficult to adapt to such rudimentary ways of comprehending life in order to communicate. Memories didn't quite suffer the same limitation, so their way of communication wasn't necessarily thought or images, but memories.
He'd countered with wanting to know how Bell-boy was and it'd replied he wasn't ready for that yet.
It only made him more suspicious.
He remembered driving on his own that day, searching for a good place to check in which wasn't a hotel or other stubborn tactic to avoid a psychiatric hospital. In the end he'd found something relatively promising, close enough to the white people to be able to check on them easily. If he wanted to. If he was able to.
After the first night of observation, in which he'd managed to get himself categorized as a fit candidate for one of their programs, they'd put him on an interesting cocktail of drugs that warped his memory. Or maybe it was the goatling.
It seemed to like messing with shit.
He'd slept for the longest time after being admitted. And after he'd woken up, there was only a daze. Daniel didn't know whether he could escape it, or whether he even wanted to.
"...ay? Ray? You're not supposed to be out of your room after hours," a nurse called him out. A hand touched his. Daniel looked at the woman as if he might strangle her right then and there.
"I'm leaving to find Bell," Daniel started. "I'm..." He cast a look down the hallway. Nowhere near outside. "Just going to make sure he's okay."
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