Blood cried from my gaping wound as I crawled through the snow, the frigidness of the ice crystals causing my body to go numb. I didn’t know where he was, or where I was, but I heard the faint roar of sirens in the distance, and a small flicker of hope revived me. With each straining breath, the wintry air collecting in my body, I tried to scream for help, but I couldn’t. My throat was desiccated. My mind reeled, lurching from the murderous pain burning in my lungs.
“H-help,” I tried, but failed. My voice turned to dust.
Oh, God, help me, I thought.
I was swaying, and my arms folded beneath me, my face connecting with the cold earth. I was decelerated, but I managed to roll myself on my back and was met with spinning embers of glowing light in the darkness. Stars. I forgot how beautiful they were—magical little pearls cushioned in the sky.
And soon, I was going to be suspended above them.
Session One - The Meeting
“Any suicidal thoughts or tendencies?”
I sip on my water and shake my head as I look around the pristinely crafted office. The room falls silent for a quick moment, the only discernible sounds are the pen slashing against paper and the clock tick tick ticking.
He nods, looking pleased. “So, Lorelei—”
“Please, everyone calls me Lori,” I say, wiping my sweaty palms against my pants.
He gives me a gentle smile. “Okay, Lori, what brings you here today?”
I open my mouth, but a weight forces it shut. I don’t know how to answer that question. Not truthfully, at least. I try to squeeze a thought from my brain, anything, but it’s as useless as a gun without bullets.
“I don’t know. It’s been a while since I’ve spoken with a psychiatrist.” I say, tapping my fingers against my knees.
His blue eyes navigate to my restless hands. He leans back in his chair, assessing me. “Are you feeling anxious?”
“A little,” I say. “Also, a little uncertain.”
“Is it because you’re talking to me, or is there another reason for your misgivings?”
There’s a pause in me before I give him an answer. Not a long one, but still enough to billow clouds of tension. “I guess a combination of both. As I said, it’s been a while since I’ve met with a psychiatrist. My brain isn’t too thrilled to be here.”
“Well, that’s to be expected. Anxiety is our brain’s way of alerting us when it discerns a situation to be stressful or threatening based on our own innate instinct. I imagine talking to someone you’ve never met before about such intimate details of your life is rather intimidating. Terrifying, even. I would be concerned if you weren’t anxious.”
“I’ve never been the type of person to believe the tongue of a therapist. So you’ll have to excuse my apprehension.”
“Trust takes time, Lori.” He swipes his eyes to the black Rolex dressed on his wrist. “And I have all the time in the world.”
I stare at him, saying nothing. My silence is the third presence in the room. It’s cold and domineering.
He asks, “Instead of telling me why you’re here, why don’t you tell me how you’re feeling?”
“Like someone peeled a layer of my skin off,” I say.
“You don’t feel like yourself?”
“You can say that.”
Session Two - The Painting
“A waste of time if you ask me,” I say as Dr. Beck and I discuss his ten years of medical school.
“Why do you say that?”
I stand, strolling over to his small library. I pluck a book from the shelf and thumb through the pages. “Well, you go to school for all of those years to sit in that chair and evaluate patients all day only to end up writing out scripts for Zoloft or Xanax or Risperidone. Meanwhile, if you’re smart, you can buy that shit off the black market. Now that’s where you can get the good stuff.”
He doesn’t respond. He positions his elbow on the arm of the chair, his chin resting in the palm of his hand.
“I’m not negating the validity of your education. I’m just making an observation. Kind of like what you’re doing right now. I’m sure you’ve conjured some of your own expert opinions on me in the short time we’ve been talking.”
Still no response. He sits back and studies me as I study the painting on the wall I missed when I first came here.
“Der Schrei der Natur. Very fitting,” I say.
“Pardon?” he asks.
“Der Schrei der Natur. The scream of nature. That was the German name Edvard Munch gave this painting. Scream as most people know it. An image of existential horror, anxiety, dread, and loneliness.” I float back to the couch, tucking one leg beneath me as I sit. I can feel the heat of the sun beating on the back of my head through the window. A bit misleading, considering it’s the middle of winter.
“Most people look at that painting and think it’s just another piece of modern art embedded into history, and not a cry for help,” I say.
“But you don’t view that painting like most people.”
“Oh, I see.” I laugh humorlessly. “You purposely display that painting, hoping someone like me will come along and project their feelings onto it. The same feelings other people invalidated for years just so you can come up with a clinical diagnosis.”
He smiles, pleased. “Looks like we’re getting somewhere.”
Session Three - The Nightmare
I snap my hairband around my wrist, anxiety roiling up my throat like acid as I wait for Dr. Beck to start our session. He was late today. I assume it’s because of the screaming blond he and several other doctors had to restrain. I didn’t bother to ask. Her shouting, I’m gonna kill all y'all speaks for itself.
“How are you doing today, Lori?” he finally asks.
“I feel tainted,” I say, sinking back into the leather couch. “Insanity slipped into my mind last night.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“I just had trouble sleeping. That’s all.” I bring my fingers to my mouth. I bite off a hang-nail. It was really bothering me.
He asks, “Do you often have trouble sleeping?”
I shrug. “Sometimes. Especially when I have nightmares.”
“And did you have a nightmare last night?”
I nod. A thought flits my mind. I grab it, then lose it.
“Tell me about it.”
“It was about someone disassembling me.”
He offers a quizzical look. “Disassembling you?”
“Yeah. Like amputation.”
“Would you care to elaborate?”
“Well, I usually dream of a person strapping me to my bed and cutting off my limbs one by one with a hacksaw.” I can still hear the sound of it; like cutting through a raw chunk of meat with a serrated knife. I shiver at the thought.
Dr. Beck shifts in his seat, leaning forward. “This is a nightmare you frequently have?”
“More occasionally than frequently,” I say. “They’re like a full moon.”
“And do you know this person in your dream?”
I flinch and avert my eyes from his, crossing my arms tight over my chest. I decide I’m done talking for today.
Session Four - The Burden Of Death
“I was sixteen when my mom died,” I say, wrapping my arms around my frame. I didn’t expect to talk about her death so soon in our therapy. I was stunned when those words catapulted from my lips. I immediately regretted them.
“I’m so sorry to hear that, Lori,” he says gently. “How did she die?”
I close my eyes, tears gnawing behind my lids. I whisper, “She was murdered.”
There is a brief pause from Dr. Beck.
“Were you close to her?” he asks.
I nod. “She was my best friend. Eight years later, and the pain holds onto me like a vise.”
“Death is a burden nobody can carry.”
I flutter a shaky hand to my collarbone. I massage it, trying to find some ease. Some comfort. “They never caught the person that killed her. I live in fear every day that he’s going to come back for me—” A cry threatens to break my voice, but I still push forward. “I’m scared he’s going to kill me.”
Tears start to flood down my face, soaking my sweater. The taste of fear becomes sour on my tongue as I recall the memories. Dr. Beck retrieves a box of tissues and stretches his hand out to me. I grab a couple, blot my eyes, and try to take a deep breath, but a sharp pain spears my lungs. I wince, placing my hand over my ribs, and I can feel my muscles twitching for relief beneath my palm.
I can feel the knife as it slips between my ribs.
The warm blood draining from my lungs. Spilling out of my mouth.
Dr. Beck’s eyes soften with concern. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah,” I say in a suffocated whisper. “Muscle spasm.”
Eight Years Before
My heart pounded in my ears, concealing the scream that tore from my mouth. I ran, ran fast to her. Her body laid on the floor without a pulse. Blood pooled around her imploded skull, and her skin was listless, as pale as the moon.
“Mom!” I screamed, a cry strangling my voice.
A chill iced my spine as I slipped her hand in mine. My world felt slanted. This can’t be happening, I thought. I squeezed a tear out of my eye, and then another, and another until they rioted down my cheeks, grief swelling tight in my chest.
I crawled, my hands lashing out for my phone that slithered across the wood floor, then stumble to my feet when I finally reach it. I jabbed in my passcode. The screen twitched. I let out a shaky breath and did it again. It unlocked, and I dialed those three little numbers — 911.
“911, what’s your emergency?”
“Help,” I cried. “Please help.”
“Ma’am, are you all right?” the woman said, her voice as calm as night.
“She’s…s-she’s dead. Please help.”
“Who’s dead?” she asked.
I paused for a moment, trying to knead the words from my lips. “My mom.”
The floorboards moaned gently behind me.
The dispatcher was talking, but it was just a fuse of muffled noise—like my ears were swimming in a tide of murky water.
A warm hand caressed my shoulder, and I lowered the phone from my ear. An unwieldy wave of nausea rolled deep in my stomach.
“Turn. Around,” he said, his warm breath on my neck.
I slowly turned and was met with icy blue eyes. Eyes that could cut through glass. Fear’s grip around me tightened, paralyzing me.
His mouth hung open, but no words came out. A sudden heat swaddled my body, spreading like fire through my stomach, up my neck, blistering my throat, pinching my face. My lungs flinched as I tried to draw in a breath, and I could feel the last bit of my life give away as the knife slid out.
Emergency Session — The Sheep and The Wolf
I met Dr. Beck at o’dark thirty. I had a nightmare. The nightmare. Except for this time, they removed my organs before amputating me.
“This person in your nightmare, is it the person that killed your mother?”
I nod silently, looking out the window. Dr. Beck sits in his chair, and I feel his eyes on me like a weight.
“Do you know who this person is?”
I say nothing. A storm is brewing in me not even God can calm.
My fingers idle to my side. My scar is pulsing like an aftershock. I close my eyes, draw in the crisp, winter air from the open window, and wrench up my sweater.
“They tried to kill me, too. Slipped a knife right between my ribs. I’m surprised I lived. I was just waiting to die. But I wasn’t as scared as I thought I would be.”
I shake my head. “When you look death right in its merciless eyes, a sort of calm transcends over you, and you quickly accept the fact there’s no escaping its power.”
Dr. Beck sucks in a breath, his eyes lingering on my scar.
“This scar will always live with me as a harrowing reminder of what happened that night,” I say, dropping the hem of my sweater. “I remember coming home and seeing blood and pieces of her flesh everywhere. She was unrecognizable; beat to a pulp. I haven’t eaten a cherry pie since.”
“I’m so sorry, Lori, I can’t even imagine — ”
“No, you can’t fucking imagine,” I snap. “I’ve never met someone so completely evil, so vile, so unholy, so monstrous.”
“So, you do know this person?” Dr. Beck says.
I give him a look. “Possibly.”
“Have you told anyone that you know who it is? It might help in catching them.”
“No, I didn’t tell anyone because I needed to make sure.”
Dr. Beck shifts in his seat. “And are you sure now?”
The corners of my mouth twitch. I say, “I was sure the second I walked into this office and saw that black Rolex on your wrist.”
He narrows his eyes, confusion contorting his features. “Excuse me?”
“That black Rolex. It was my father’s. My mother had it customized for him on their twentieth wedding anniversary. I’m sure if you look on the back of it, it’ll have their anniversary date engraved; 11-11-90.”
“Lori, I—I don’t know what—”
“Does the name Amy Perkins mean anything to you?” I say, visibly annoyed.
He stares at me evenly. “No, no I don’t think so.”
“Well, you should considering it’s the name of the woman you murdered.”
He says nothing.
“Come on, Dr. Beck, think. You had an affair with her about eight years ago? A pretty, petite brunette? She had a fourteen-year-old daughter that caught you in bed with her?”
He pales. I see the recognition instantly register on his face. “Rose?”
I smile, playing with the letter opener I tucked in my sleeve when I walked in. “In the flesh. It’s amazing what eight years, a bottle of hair dye, and some scissors can do,” I say. “Now, I think it’s time you and I got reacquainted because right now there is nothing I would love more than to rip your heart out and set it on fire.”
I can sense Dr. Beck becoming uneasy. “Rose, listen to me. I would never hurt you or your mother—”
“Shut up!” I brandish the letter opener, the steel blade winking under the dim lights. Dr. Beck reels from his seat, slowly edging his body toward me.
“How distasteful would it be of me if I didn’t partake in the very thing man created: murder.”
“Rose put the letter opener down. We can talk about this.”
“There’s nothing to talk about. You destroyed my family—my life,” I say, holding the blade out. “Death is pushing you towards an open grave, Dr. Beck, and I intend to bury you in it.”
He gets closer, his hands hovering in front of his body. “I can see that you’re angry. You have every right to be. But you can sit and talk to me. I want you to talk to me, Rose.”
I pause, musing his words, then decide to recoil.
“Okay,” I say calmly. “Let’s talk.”
He expires a breath and slowly moves closer to me, but once his defenses are down, I lunge at him, plunging the letter opener deep into his neck, twisting it. He drops to his knees, blood weeping from the wound and a deep gurgling sound puddles in his throat.
I lower my lips to his ear, whispering, “You killed my mother, then tried to kill me. Now I think it’s only fair the sheep got a taste of the wolf’s blood.”
I pull the blade out and wipe the blood coated steel across his shirt. I hold it up and look at my reflection, smiling.
There is a concept of me, an illusion of myself I created to live among everybody else. I mold into the social construct society perceives to be acceptable — my hopes, dreams, and desires are a bunch of nonsensical bullshit so I can blend into the crowd of normality, so people can view me as similar. Even though I’m there — my flesh, my blood, my hair, my beating heart — I am only that, a concept, and underneath the imitation is a person that doesn’t feel a fucking thing.
I lay on the grass next to Dr. Beck’s stiff body. My back is twisted in knots, and my legs ache from hauling all his dead weight from the office to the nice, cozy spot I scouted for him in the woods. I think he’ll like it here; he has the best view of those magical little pearls I love so much.
“Beautiful isn’t it, Dr. Beck?” I say as I stare up into the glowing night, swelled with delight.
One of the stars winks at me.
I smile. “This is for you, mom.”