The waiting room was an ominous presence unto itself. It seemed to feed off your angst of the unknown like an insatiable beast. The poster on the far left displayed a dying, skeletal man suffering in a hospital clinic. A clear plastic tube bore into a round, vascular hole in his throat. A caption in bold lettering above read “Cancer kills. Give up smoking today.” The opposite side of the room showed the image of a man curled up on the floor, holding his chest. The ironic part was that he was lying in the middle of a park dressed in casual jogging attire.
The four walls seemed to be closing in on Janet as the grey, depressive atmosphere began to stifle her. A guttural cough from an elderly man two chairs to her right. A screaming baby directly opposite her replete with a distressed mother bouncing it harshly upon her knee. The welcoming call from the secretary couldn’t have come sooner.
“Mrs. Williams? The doctor will see you now. This way, please.”
Janet replaced the two month old edition of Hello magazine in a small rack next to her chair. She hastened forward in a hurry, almost as if to escape from the disgust of the area she was in. Holding her handbag close to her chest, she entered the doctor’s office, shutting the door behind her.
Dr. Newark wasn’t one to mince with words when dealing with any of his three thousand odd patients and today proved no exception. He gestured to her to take a seat, all the while staring at her in a peculiar fashion. “Mrs. Williams. Forgive me for being a little direct, but you look awful.”
Janet’s face was a sombre, rigid mask. Her hair hung scantily in long, thin strands clumped together. Secreted glandular oils gave her face a waxy, almost doll-like complexion. Her attire seemed to match suitably with a long, flowing black dress. She looked as if she might be attending a funeral, either as a guest or the deceased. The doctor rose from his chair and offered her a small plastic cup of water from the dispenser. “I think you’ll be needing this, at the very least.” he said in his usual formal manner.
She waved it away in slight irritation. “No, doctor, I’m fine. I’ve come about my boy, Jamie.”
The doctor placed the water next to a pile of documents, eyeing her from just above the top of his steel-rimmed spectacles. “I see. What seems to be the trouble?”
“Well. This might sound a little different to the usually complaints you hear from your patients but I’ll just tell it exactly how it is. Our cat died on Tuesday morning gone, run over by a pickup. I told Jamie when he arrived back from school that day and that’s went everything has gone haywire.” Her lip trembled as she finished the sentence. A handkerchief was at the ready in her left hand should it be required.
“Right. Things went haywire?” he asked curiously.
Janet took in a deep breath and continued. “Well, the thing is… He can’t sleep. He hasn’t slept since I told him about it.” She looked sheepishly down at the floor. “I did give him half a sleeping tablet yesterday after he had some sort of episode in school, but I promise you it was only to coax him into getting some rest.” Her eyes clouded up as Dr. Newark still remained lost in confusion.
“He had an episode in school? What kind of an episode?” he enquired expectantly.
She looked back up at him. “A fit. Like epilepsy or something. Look, please can you help me, doctor?” He could see she was close to the edge, a woman who had reached her wits end. He ran a forefinger over the whitish stubble covering his chin, deep in contemplation.
“It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact cause for this kind of erratic behaviour without running a series of tests on him.” he answered in a deep rumble. “I mean, the loss of a pet to a young boy of his age can be quite stressful and traumatic, but something as extreme as convulsions and fits is something I have never come across before. We’ll have to firstly run a CT scan to eliminate possible causes. Where is he now?”
“Resting in bed at home. I left him in the care of our neighbour, Derek. He’s been so very helpful during this difficult period. There’s… erm… one other thing. He says our cat is still with him. Like constantly. He can see her, hear her, even smell her. It’s preventing him from falling asleep. He told me that the second he is about to nod off, the cat starts meowing and purring loudly. I know this must sound crazy to you, but it’s driving us insane. Literally. If only you saw what he looked like now.” She burst into a flood of tears, not able to withhold the building emotion any longer.
“Please help me, doctor. I beg of you. Please save my son.”
Derek stood admiring the sweeping hills in the distance from the small window at the far end of the landing. He dabbed away a single tickle of sweat that ran halfway down his cheek. The air was much cooler within the beautiful, spacious walls of the Williams household as opposed to the burn of the day outside. A glass of iced water felt refreshing against his pruned fingertips. He was aware of a soft, high-pitched tinkling coming from somewhere below him. Looking down, it soon became apparent it was the ice cubes sloshing around in the water, held by his podgy, quivering hand. He gulped, his nerves close to frayed, waiting anxiously for Janet to arrive back home.
Down the wide corridor, he could hear a child’s voice. A child in deep conversation with someone or something. His eyes fluttered in a panic. He looked down toward the room Jamie was in. Pure terror gripped his whole body at the thought of entering that room once more. A sudden noise downstairs jolted him, partially spilling some water onto the textured, cream carpet. It was the front door. Janet was home.
He moved at a surprisingly fast pace given the heft he had accumulated over the last twenty years or so. He met her midway down the stairs. Her pale face looked frail and drawn. A stark contrast to the glowing specimen of a woman just a few short days ago. Derek reached the bottom releasing a heavy puff of air from his mouth.
The first thought she had was uttered with indifferent impulsiveness. “Derek, how is Jamie?”
She noticed how fearful he looked. His demeanour of constant trepidation did nothing to calm her nerves. “He’s stable, Jan.” he muttered in a shaky voice. “Though I'm sorry but I think he is getting worse. He keeps talking to Mia. Looking toward the window and just talking. I tried to approach him but he got angry.” Derek kept on swallowing against a dry palate forgetting he still held the cold glass of water. Janet knew how helpful he had been and allowed him some much needed respite.
She attempted a forced but warm smile. “Derek, thank you for everything. You truly are a good friend. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”
Before she had even finished talking, he placed the glass on the bottom banister post and began making his way to the open door. “No problem, Janet. Just holler if you need anything. I’m just a stone’s throw away.” With that, he was straight out the front and gone. She couldn’t help but feel a little hurt by his rapid departure, however couldn’t blame him for it. Jamie’s transformation was a difficult enough ordeal for a lone mother, let alone some stranger who lives in the house next door.
“Baby?” Janet called out as she placed her handbag on a chair and made her way upstairs. She could already hear the murmurings of Jamie behind the wooden door. His voice sounded weak and raspy. Not the sound of a healthy teenager in the prime of his life. She knocked gently and the voice ceased. She proceeded to enter.
Janet didn’t need a second glance to see what had terrified Derek into the state that he was in. Jamie looked frightening, to say the least. Large, black circles encompassed pallid, creamy eyes. His pupils had contracted to the point that they were now sharp, miniscule dots. His skin looked clammy and sickly as he slowly turned in her direction and gave her a chilling grimace. But through the abomination lying before her, she still saw her son smiling up at her, happy she was home once again.
“Mamma.” he called out in a distorted croak. “We don’t have to be afraid anymore. Mia told me she will never leave us again. Isn’t that so sweet, mamma?” Janet sat upon the bed and placed a hand to his forehead. It was cold to the touch. He hadn’t eaten or slept for almost three days straight but she understood that something else was at play here. Something evil had invaded her son’s soul and latched onto it like some kind of deadly parasite.
“That’s great news, darling.” replied Janet assuredly as she didn’t want to cause him any unnecessary stress by debating what he only saw as the plain truth.
“We’re a family again.” He said with a twisted smile of satisfaction upon his face. He held out a feeble hand as Janet pursed her lips and kissed it tenderly.
The phone rang loudly downstairs.
“Back in a moment, precious.” she said affectionately as it persisted in the background.
She had not said anything yet when a familiar voice spoke first on the other end of the line. “Janet? You there?”
“Sarah. How are you?” she anwsered in genuine surprise. It had been at least a whole year since they had last been in touch. Even that was via a short e-mail detailing how they hadn’t caught up for so long. How unfortunate it takes a familial catastrophe to reunite our nearest and dearest, she thought dejectedly.
A tinny, shrill voice echoed back over the receiver. “I just found out what happened to Jamie. Are you guys alright? What’s happening over there?” It made her feel physically sick at the thought of having to explain the entire sordid affair all over again.
“The simple truth is I just don’t know what’s happening to him. We lost Mia a few days ago and now Jamie is acting like he’s lost his mind! I don’t know what to do!” She clutched at the phone as if somehow that would magically transport her sister into the room.
Sarah quietly digested what was being said. “Right. Well, we’ll get into the details just as soon as I touch down.”
“Sorry?” asked Janet puzzled.
“I’ve booked the next available flight out to see you both. I should be there in the early hours. Don’t worry, I’ve organised a cab and everything. Just sit tight until I get there.” Janet gasped a sigh of relief as any support offered at this point would be gratefully received.
“Oh Sarah, that’s wonderful news. I really need you here like right now, more than you could ever imagination. I’ve literally just been winging it until now.” She did her utmost to hold it together whilst talking to Sarah. Her well of tears seemed to have all but dried up, however the dull, throbbing pain at both her temples was unremitting. “You know, it literally doesn’t make any logical sense as to what is happening to Jamie. His face, his appearance, his mind, it’s all completely changed in the last few days. It’s been such a rapid decline, I‘m having a hard time processing it all. I myself haven’t slept either. We’re stuck in a horrible nightmare that just won’t go away!” She pressed hard on the left side of her head. The continuous heavy ache felt as though it was progressively ebbing away at her insanity.
“OK, Janet, all I ask is that you just keep calm. First things first, you need to book him an appointment to see the doctor.”
“I already went to see Dr. Newark this morning.” she replied. “I couldn’t take Jamie with me because he’s too weak so I asked Derek to come and watch over him while I was gone.”
“That’s good thinking.” said Sarah over the phone trying to create a mental checklist of all the possible things Janet could do to help the situation before she arrived. "“What did the doctor say?”"
“He’s personally coming over out-of-hours to see him this evening. He told me that according to his findings later on, we’ll take it from there.” Janet found that actually talking out a solution with Sarah was easing the tension somewhat. A mild offering of comfort, but one she'd take willingly.
The doorbell chimed, making her jump.
“Sarah, I'll just go answer that, be right back.”
Two figures stood against the fogged glass of the front door. She recognised them immediately.
“Barry, Ricky, please come in.” she exclaimed as her supportive circle started gathering in number. The dark cloud over them seemed to be parting. The time to fight back was now. They both looked at her with bowed heads, clumsily banging into each other on the way in.
"Mrs. Williams, how are you?” asked Barry who tried his hardest to conceal a look of surprise at how haggard she appeared. Janet blinked appreciatively giving them a warm, pleasant smile. “Thank you both for coming. Please go on up, he’ll be thrilled to see you.”
As they began ascending the staircase, she grabbed Ricky by the arm much to their alarm. “Also I must tell you, he looks… different. Remember, it’s just the illness, OK?” At first they gave each other a disquieting look, but soon after nodded in mutual agreement.
She hurried back to the phone. “Sarah, are you still there?”
“Of course, Jan. I’m not going anywhere.” she said confidently. “We’re gonna get through this and beat it together, I promise.” Those words reverberated through her. The feelings of hopelessness and despair were now succumbing to the power of positivity. She let out a sliver of a smile, still cautious of the fragile situation she was dealing with. Things were going to turn out alright.
A flood of panic surged through her veins as one of the boys yelled for her hysterically. She flung the phone onto the floor and ran up the stairs in a subconscious frenzy. Her tired legs buckled over a step as she pulled herself back to her feet and burst onto the landing. Ricky was staring wide-eyed through the doorway. She reached Jamie’s room and her mind spiralled into a feverish stupor.
Barry was looking on in horror as Jamie sat perched over the window ledge smiling down with a psychotic longing. A fresh gust of air streamed into the room. “Jamie!” she screamed at the top of her lungs. “What are you doing?”
He turned to them both. His face was a ghastly mix of greys, blacks and whites all merged together. His eyes looked like hollowed sockets as he continuously stroked at an invisible space on his lap. “It’s OK, mamma. She’s won’t go anywhere again. She’s with us forever now.” Janet spun back to Ricky. “Quick, phone the police now!” she yelled as Jamie dangled precariously over the edge.
“There’s nothing there, Jamie! Please listen to me! Listen to your mother! It’s all in your mind!”
His actions implied that the figment of his imagination wanted to snuggle up even closer to him. “There, there, Mia. I’m not going anywhere.” he said in a lost, faraway voice. He leaned forward as if trying to hug the small space in front of him.
“No!” shrieked Janet lunging across the bed to save him. She managed to touch the sleeve of his striped pyjama top before he plunged from the first floor of their idyllic home. She looked on from the open window, mumbling demented ravings to herself, as he slammed into the concrete ground below, a spurt of blood shooting though the air. With her searching eyes almost tearing themselves out from her head, she saw that he was just able to move his crimson hand one last time as if petting something.
Saying goodbye to a dear, beloved family member.
Saying goodbye to Mia.