A sense of timelessness had settled over the hospital’s halls. Corridors that used to be crowded now appeared like hollow arteries; formerly walked places. The facility was strange to say the least. Medical laboratory and small town are part of the same picture. Rooms in the hospital were designed more like homes. Halls served as streets that connected places, and foliage distracted from the fact that one was inside a building.
It has been becoming increasingly difficult to find people in the past few days. Hellibor never took me searching for that man by the river or the commissary lady. In a ghostly, empty park, I sat on the rim of a fountain, losing hours. The worst thing about it, no one seemed at all concerned, except me. Staring up at the lonesome sky was a favorite pastime of mine. In this lengthy period of mindless watching the sky, I noticed one of the window panels washed out, a dull wave rolling over the glass. My attention was drawn to subtle flickers and bursts of static washing over all the windows. As my mouth fell open in a gasp, I realized the ceilings appeared to project a blue sky that fooled even the most discerning eye.
“If the sky isn’t real here, what else is?” I wondered to myself. My surroundings creaked with a weathered whimper as the fountain moaned. Like a cancerous tumor eating away at this building’s body, the walls of this place felt decaying. The “sun’s” rays shimmered as dust particles descended like sand grains as they were blown in the wind.
As weeks passed, things inside the hospital collapsed into rusted ruins; it was a once-perfect world falling apart. Azamoth never came back, and Cody also turned up missing shortly after. A thousand ghosts walked through the halls of my mind’s palace. My memories were occasionally visited by these familiar spirits.
Following my morning treatments, I walked through the empty halls of the building. As the park grew desolate, my interest faded. As a result of having no one with whom to talk, the whole hospital had become a bit boring. Vanity herself had become scarce as well, but I believe Hellibor had something to do with it. As I re-enter my room, I am greeted by walls plastered with several hundred crudely drawn pictures. This room became a gallery of fantastic things and people living inside the hospital; a gallery of memories and even some of the worst nightmares from my childhood. As I sat at my desk, I stared at a white sheet of paper. Taking out my pen, I began to draw Azamoth. As one of the faces among the many, his memory deserved a place.
In my lonesome state, several hours passed. I couldn’t help but smile at the picture, looking at the work I’d done. I tried to convince myself that it looked like him. Using a roll of tape, I removed a small band. After folding the sticky strip into a tidy loop, I applied the tape to the back of the picture. Between the fountain picture and Hellibore’s office, there is an empty space on the wall. Between the two, I planted it snugly.
My eyes widened as I saw all the faces of the people I used to know. The smile on my face drooped further as the faces brought back so many memories. Angry like a fire swelled in my chest as I closed my fists. “Why won’t anyone tell me anything!” I roared to the walls that enclosed me. My hands touched my face, and I released a pained yelp, dropping to my knees. In place of being suspended in nothingness, entrapped in eternal slumber, I was granted eternal solitude. Watching everyone slowly be sucked away from me… and then watching it all decay.
While wiping away the salty rivers in my eyes, I turned my gaze upward. No, no. Clearly, something else was going on. There was no doubt in my mind. I just, I had to talk to Vanity. If I begged, maybe she would tell me. For hours, I sat on my bed staring at the door. Sitting on my bed and gazing at my door. Too afraid to ask for answers. There were too many nagging suggestions to choose from, but I knew I could not delay any longer. There was no way I could ignore it. After rising to my feet, I marched to hear my fate.
Leaving my room, I walked into the large empty foyer, crossing the polished black onyx floors to a standing staircase that led to the medical floor where Vanity’s office was located. A steady stream of decorative water flows around the staircase as it feeds the fauna and supports their growth. A spiral of ivy had coiled itself along the channel that ran around the black iron hand rails.
Several colored lines led in different directions at the junction in front of the stairs. Residential homes were located on the blue ones. Food courts and restaurants were on the green ones. The yellow color represents finance. The red line led to the medical wards, which I followed. Not that I needed it any longer. With my eyes closed, I could walk from my room to Vanity’s office. The uneven ground along the dirty pathway was familiar to me. White walls with inlay patterns. In some spots, the tiles reflected the glassy sky above. I thought they looked like little puddles. It no longer inspired belief after the illusion was broken. Instead, I could see the flaw, the scan lines washing over the screens above like a tide.
My way through the long halls leads me past areas where there are small gardens. There was a sense that they were a model of nature. The tree was planted with a rock and maybe a small patch of flowers or a small pond, painted with patches of colorful moss, and Vanity’s office was at the end of the line.
When the white doors part, a room defined by tabula rasa is revealed. With the exception of a few invasive objects, everything inside the room looked like white plastic. Vanity herself sat in front of a screen looking at a file. Her desk is cluttered with paperwork. In any case, she continued reading over the file with intent, either because she didn’t notice I was in her room or because she was too engrossed in her work to acknowledge me. My intention was not to break her consecrations, so I sat on the medical bed in her office. I made myself known after waiting for several minutes. “Vanity.”
As she turned her hips to face me, she grinned. “I didn’t even hear you come in.” Vanity said. “Are you just stopping by?”
As I shook my head, I sighed. Vanity’s expression turned from expressive to frozen as I replied, “No, actually. What is this place?”
She laughed in a high-pitched voice. “What do you mean? You are in my office. Are you feeling alright honey?”
Without thinking about it, I replied, “I think so.” That proposition surprised me a little. “Well, I think I am.” I sighed. “I know the sky isn’t real.” Vanity didn’t respond immediately to my confession. Her only response was to rub her fingernails together and look at me with a static smile. “The central park screen broke. I sort of put two and two together,” I explained my comment further.
It was as if Vanity’s head was floating sideways against a series of waves. Despite her best efforts, she was met with another wave by her inner reflection. Despite my best efforts, I could not quite decipher what it meant. “They are for the patients. The purpose is simply to make people feel more comfortable. When people feel they have been indoors for months on end, it affects their mental health. We are trying to create the illusion of being outdoors. It is a service, honest. It was a lie, but a noble one.” Her face did not change. Her expression didn’t change. There was an air of machine-like precision about her. In her hollowed form, she looked like a porcelain doll made of gears. “You understand, right Prina?” My head nodded, a lie, but in truth, I had no idea what to think anymore. “Is that all that is bothering you?”
I couldn’t help myself, I needed answers, so I shook my head sheepishly. “The people are missing. Where is everyone? Where is Cody?”
“Cody is in his office, hard at work. Why do you ask?”
“Are you even listening to me?” I whimper, fearing that she too is nothing more than an artificial sky.
A sigh escapes Vanity’s lips. “I have work to do honey. Later, I can take you to see Cody.”
“I want to see him now,” I demanded.
What happened to the girl I knew? “He is busy right now, Prina. Now, stop all this nonsense talk.”
The one that tickled me in the park. Prior to Hellibore scaring her away. This Vanity was not my Vanity. “Nonsense?” I could not believe what I was hearing. In an instant, I leapt from the medical bed and marched up to Vanity. “Why are you being like this?” I cried.
“I am not being like anything.” the mechanical doll coldly replied. Her charcoal eyes captured my attention for a moment, leaving me speechless. As soon as I turned around, I left the room without saying another word. Like scraping metal, the door closed behind me.
Afterward, after blowing off some steam, I heard loud crackling coming down the hall from the food court. As my eyes shifted toward the wall, I noticed the source of the sound. The surface was engulfed in a heavy glare. The material of the wall itself bowed and burst, forming some sort of bulbous shape. It evolves into a human shape poorly crafted like a clay figure from a child’s hands as a pair of arms reach out from the shape. Lines of plastic extend out from the blob in the shape of arms. From its body, tethers of plastic string reach the floor as the creature breaches through the wall. A snap is heard as it rises to its feet.
My mind is left stunned and frozen in place by a mixture of trepidation and horror. After repairing itself, the white plastic body replaced the soft plastic sheen with flesh-like material. Looking over itself, the thing stands straight up. As it lifts, its knobby arms in front of where its face should be the knobs spread open forming fingers that rip through the solid material. As the plastic cacoon falls away, something that looked kind of human emerges from the remains of plastic pieces.
“Eh eh eh eh eh!” the alarms yelled as the warning lights on the wall danced in a deep red haze. As a matter of fact, I barely noticed them. As a result of what I had witnessed, I was too shocked to even respond. From its nude body, its flesh rapidly expanded into clothing. Nevertheless, the person is dressed entirely inappropriately. The outfit consists of a t-shirt and jeans. It was once common clothing I remembered from before I slipped into stasis; now it is foreign and forgotten.
The odd wall person says, “Hello,” in a deep male voice. My eyes grew wide as I backed away from the impossible situation. “Are you afraid of me?” It asked, walking wet, stringy forward.
“What are you?” I screamed.
“Human.” It lied. “You want to get out of here, don’t you?”
I felt my heart skip a beat. It knew that but how? My body wanted to run. I had to know whether it knew. Despite my fear, I swallowed my words. “Do you know how!?”
“I know a way out. I certainly do. I do, I do, I wouldn’t lie to you. For sure, I certainly would. Down down below, you must go further down than you ever been. Below in the arteries of the world and once you have found yourself deep in the squirming world, you must crawl out the throat of that place. Only then you will reach the surface.” He finished with an ominous cackle. As the door opens, loud servos ring out from down the hall. “We have company.” That line was sung in such an unpleasant tone.
As I turned my attention away from the wall man, the sound of boots approached from behind me. “Get away from that thing.” Hellibor shouted. As he dives in front of me, he shields me from harm. “Stay behind me girl.” This is the closest thing to affection Hellibor has ever shown me. I was never harmed by him. That’s true, of course. Nevertheless, he scared me. At the moment, however, he held my trust.
My skin crawled as another loud crow escaped the wall man. “You people are like little mice hiding inside your shelter. Thought you could hide forever? Your ICE has failed you.”
Raising his hand aloft, Hellibor revealed a blue laser-light ring much like an interface on a computer. Each digit of his fingers split open, releasing three tiny metal stamps like typewriters. The holographic kiosk received data as they typed rapidly. “Aren’t you funny?” It groaned. “I guess I will have to mess you up!” The thing screamed, charging towards Hellibor. In the form of an axe, its right arm was transformed into a long, sharp blade ready to chop.
A quick hand pushed into my chest, forcing me against a hard wall, knocking me completely out of breath. All the while, Hellibor slipped past the attacker and entered new data into the system. “You’re fast or maybe I’m playing with you.” the wall man growled. Holding me behind him, Hellibor furrowed his brow. Despite the danger posed to his life, he is still shielding me from harm. It was as if half the man’s face was melting like a candle on fire as he turned to me. My goodbyes will have to be short. I look forward to playing with you again, girl. I’ll be waiting… outside.”
“Doubt it.” Hellibore answered, as the blue hologram beams disappeared. Upon falling to the ground, the wall man’s body burst into dust like a demolished building. “Are you ok.” Hellibore asks, his gaze still fixed on the disappearing phantom.
“Yeah,” I reply quietly. In a way, it seemed routine, so casual. The truth is, I think something broke inside of me. In an instant, my entire worldview was shattered into a million sharp fragments. “What was that thing?”
“That was a rogue AI, an artificial intelligence. In a way, they are like ghosts. In most cases, ICE, intrusion countermeasures electronics, keeps them out. This is a disturbing development,” Hellibor commented. His fact blast was followed by a dull mumble to himself. The message was clear enough for me to understand “We don’t have enough staff to maintain the systems. The wards are already breaking.”
“There are missing people,” my voice trailed off under my breath.
Despite his hesitation, Hellibor nodded. “Indeed, I am aware. Primina.” Openly admitting it was bitter sweet. My instincts told me that I was not crazy, but the affirmation scared me. In any event, if people were missing, then they obviously had to be somewhere else. Down; a place which I must find for truth’s sake alone. As Hellibor kneeled down to my level, he turned toward me and looked into my eyes. “Don’t trust anyone anymore. Not even me.” The words sounded deep and weighty. His fingers snuggly grasped onto my shoulder, rubbing it gently, very gently. “If they are asking you to do something funny, they might be an imposter.” My eyes grew wide as the sensation of his touch became clear. He touched me. In an instant, Hellibor withdrew his hand. Looking at his hand, he was too surprised at what he had done.
As we shared silence, it became awkward, “An imposter?” I asked.
Hellibore shrugged off the moment at once. “An AI may want to hurt you. Before they can be materialized, they must be hacked into the nanomachine network. However, they can choose to look like anyone once they manifest. Even me. Be careful.”
”What’s a nanomachine?”
“It’s what this building is made out of.”
It was so refreshing to hear him be so candid with me. Nanomachines? This is not the first time I have heard of them. When I was a kid, they were all over the news. They said they’d change everything. “Doctor Winters, what happened to the world?”
Hellibor smirked. “If I have it my way, you will never find out, but it looks like you will observe it for yourself.” With that, he closed again.
Through the maze of the garden, I descended further down, following the spiraling halls obscured by artificial hills. Although the hills continually wound lower, their peaks and folly had not ceased. In plain sight, but so hidden. There would be no problem with mistaking the depths they were traveling to, as if the geometry had been designed incorrectly. The walls were surrounded by rivers of water, flowing in strange paths around them. The waterways were traversed by wooden bridges. There was something curious about this place. This was the deepest I had ever gone in all the years I had been living in this hospital. The corkscrew tower within which I lived was beyond my comprehension. My guess is that this building was at least ten floors deep; I wondered how deep it actually was. As I turned another corner, I encountered a white staircase leading to a large black mirror door.
Looking at the monolith caused me to envision the gates of hell. “Is this where everything is revealed?” I asked myself. The pure white marble stairs led me up to the door. As I climbed the sacred steps, the stairs seemed to grow longer. When I looked back, I saw that I had climbed much higher than the stairs appeared to be on the ground. From the top of the staircase, I could see my own reflection looking back at me. In my youth, I was merely a young girl. In spite of pushing against the icy stone, the door did not budge. “Huh.” I shoved against the door with my other hand, but when that did not work I used the rest of my body, but even then the door would not move. My muscles tensed up and I pushed with all my power as I screamed.
“That door won’t open for you.” My eyes caught sight of Vanity at the bottom of the steps.
“How does it open?”
As she held up her hand, Vanity smirked and twinkled her fingers. “You just have to have the right touch.”
Freedom is mine. A smile spread across my face. “Come up here and open it then.”
“I can’t do that for you, Prina.” As I realize how stupid it was of me to think Vanity could help me, my face falls. After all, she is the one holding me here. Hospitals aren’t like this. There is something else at play here. We are nearing the end of a prison play, a stage production, and a play at the theatre. “You should not be down here.”
“How did you know I was here? No one comes down here.”
Like a cat getting up from a long nap, Vanity stretched. “Well, I was going for a walk and saw you sneaking. Figured you were up to something. Come down here and we can talk about this.” Sighing, I descend the stairs.
It was impossible to persuade Vanity to help me. “What is this door for anyway?” I inquired.
She told me without hesitation. “It leads to the Amala, it’s a tunnel system that runs throughout the entire world. However, there is a laboratory inside there too. It is a terrible place.” Vanity said to me. On my way down the staircase, I take my last step.
In front of Vanity, I was consumed with wicked thoughts. I might have stolen her hand if I had a knife. “What kind of terrible place?”
After turning around, Vanity began walking away from me. “We call it the body room. You don’t want to see it.”
“I want to go through the door, Vanity,” I told her. “Show me.” Without saying a word, Vanity continued walking, and I followed.
Laying back in the chair for the millionth time, I examined the tubes sucking blood from my arm like a mechanical vampire. Helibore was pacing the floor today, totally consumed by his own thoughts and not even speaking to me. My minor complaint was, “How many more times do I have to do this?”
I was surprised when he answered. “Three.” I straightened up in my chair. “After this one makes two.” He didn’t even glance at me. The subject of his contemplation was still a focus for him. “Happy?”
Happy, yeah. “Yes sir,” I replied.
I was happy, but I was terrified about what the end of my treatments meant. When they stop sucking my blood, what happens?
The next chapter is waiting for you, why not read it? Just click the button below to go to the next chapter.
If you enjoyed the story, please like it and subscribe to my page to get notified as soon as I post anything new.
Sign up here for emails whenever I make a new post.
Do you have a comment about my work? Share it with me below.