Her zoning out was a frequent part of these sessions. In part it was due to them being so dry and uneducated she hardly wanted to give them the honor of her time. This was supposed to be a good and productive sixty minutes. A safe place to unfold the dark. Two days a week, for the foreseeable future. Aileen knew she needed it; she wanted to get better and some days were better than others. She’d open up for a whole few minutes before deflecting the conversation back at her therapist. Progress. Progress to some days where she can’t say anything at all. Almost paralyzed in the chair. Other days she truly loathed the sight of this room. This bright sun-room is filled with an assortment of plants and other decorations of greenery. It felt fake, too bright, too alive. It felt like it all mocked her somehow, flaunting their livelihood. Sometimes while her therapist spoke on about new coping mechanisms, she’d pick a plant and stare past it into the void. Allowing the minutes to elapse, occasionally giving utterances to let them know she was ‘listening’. Green and alive they were. Always alive. Standing tall. Always in the sun. Never to know darkness.
She wasn’t sure if she could feel the sun on her skin anymore.
“How does it feel to always be in light?” In her blank stare she started to see it whither and crumble. The hissing sound of acid decayed the stem as it came crumbling down to the soil. Smoke billowing up to engulf anything left of the once tall plant. Aileen slowly averted her from it to look at the therapist across from her. She started to see his face pale, so much so she could see the blood hiding behind his flesh. His face started smoking too, hissing, loud enough to shatter glass. Aileen blinked a few times to refocus herself. With each blink his face changed, melted, melting away from bone. That familiar smell of acid taking what it wanted. She feared the acid would take her too.
“Have the dreams stopped for you, doctor?”
She gasped a little, closing her eyes for a long moment and opening them again. He was fine, the plant was fine too. It was just a room. That happened sometimes, her imagination playing tricks on her. It’s normal, she told herself. Just a result of trauma. It would pass. She thought he repeated the same question but the words hung to the surface, still unprocessed. The bright light of the early morning soaking into the room started to give her a headache. She just wanted a bit of silence now, her presence in this conversation was too much to ask.
Her therapist leaned forward in their chair, gently raising their voice just enough to get her attention. “Doctor Morgan?”
Her head snapped back to the attention of her therapist. She wanted to just skip the question, but she relented.
“Yes, they only lasted a week since the… The new medication is working wonders.”
It felt wrong. Despite her viewpoints of the person across from her. It felt so wrong lying to a fellow professional. But the medication didn’t do a damn thing against the night terrors. They came every night. Every single damn night. And every morning she’d further conceal the truth with layers of makeup hiding the black circles under her eyes and a pill to stave off the edge of exhaustion. She just wanted to be done.
A little obnoxiously cheery tune sounded throughout the room. An end to another fifty minutes. The therapist removed their glasses and set them down on the coffee table that separated them.
“Well, I hate to say it but we are at that time. I’ll just put you down for Wednesday then.”
Aileen smiled at them, a deeply bemused smile as if they had just told her a joke. “No you won’t, dear. You’re SVT’s. SVT decided I am no longer suitable for them. Which means your lackluster services are no longer necessary.” Her tone was sickly sweet, maybe even a touch serene. “Have a good week.”
“I can refer you to-“
She didn’t wait for them to finish their sentence. She didn’t want any referral. She rose from her chair and saw herself out. She promised she’d make it through just one more session. One more, and then she could rely on herself for diagnosis. She kept her promise, it was done. That was good enough for today.
She didn’t try to accomplish any tasks the rest of the day, no work, no looking at other career opportunities, nothing. She hoped gentle things to fill the day would help her sleep. Hobbies, like painting. She loves painting, and always does it before bed. Acrylics being the material she uses the most. She could paint her story, work through it, and maybe even set her own ending.
Happy thoughts to conclude her night. But the night would not be done with her.
Every night she would dream of that ship, walking down the metal hallways alone. It always began with a knock and then growls. Skittering in the shadows as darkness engulfs the halls and the sweet smothering of the armored being. In a haze, she see Kenneth. See him in agony before his rib cage erupted, the blood. Aileen was no stranger to goriness, but this was different, it made her sick, nothing had ever made her feel so sick before. His blood on the walls, rapidly spelling the same thing over and over again, the voice of Jaime’s manic laughter echoing the writings.
“She made me do it, she made me do it, she made me do it.”
These dreams rarely changed. If they did they were subtle things, sounds, imagery, smell. Her dreams often morphed in and out of different perspectives. In a body that is not her own. Being forced to run a gauntlet of many unique gruesome lives. Witnessing the demise of them all. All of the same woman. Aileen’s own body in the waking world ached each time the night terrors progressed here. It hurt each time. Her chest felt compressed and she suffocated on each scenario. And each time, despite herself, she reached out. Called out. “Are you alive? Tell me where you are so I can help you!”
Shifting again. From colleagues and acquaintances, and then back to herself. In a nightmare where trapped in another room the sounds of screams omitted from Sloan and Dr. Brenner infused with the sound of her own cries as her chest caved in and split away. In this moment she lay paralyzed in a bathtub, head above water, but she was still drowning. It was beautiful in its own way. The clear water blooming red, staining her skin. Painting the surface of the porcelain tub to match a room equally as crimson. The was littered with splayed egg sacks and the silhouettes of hissing monstrosities in the shadows all looking in fondness on the walls as those same words painted themselves along the room,
“SHE MADE ME DO IT.”
Aileen screamed out, mirroring those exact words as she jolted back into the waking world. Silently for long moments she’d repeat it over and over it again. She couldn’t help it.
She had built herself a routine around these nightmares, the moment she realizes she’s awake, she’d start counting backwards from fifty. With a breath in between each number. Lying herself back against her bed, eyes choosing their favorite place on the ceiling as she counted.
“6, 5, 4, 3, 2…1.” One last breath, slowly breathed in and out again. She lay there awake a few minutes more, eyes closed to her surroundings, drinking in the silence. Save for the dogs backing a few doors down.
She tapped her phone awake, checking the time
“4:32AM. I need to be up soo-No, of course not. Silly me. They don’t want me.”
S.V.T.D.C. Let her go.
She kept forgetting that. She wouldn’t let herself feel frustrated again about it, it was far too early for frustration. She tapped her contacts icon. Knowing full well there’d be someone up at this time. Scrolling down a ways, her finger tapped the name ‘Sloan’ and started to type. “Had another one. What about you? This new drug is despicable.”
Sometimes she was able to fall back asleep, but this time she was very awake and her body wouldn’t give her the luxury of succumbing to exhaustion. What was the point of waking up if you didn’t have work to attend to? Work that benefits the world. To heal, to create. Nothing. She hasn’t told Brenner or Sloane yet. Not even her family knows yet. She’ll tell them when she finds something else.
“Lights. Dim.” She spoke allowed and her bedroom alight in a warm hue.
She got out of her bed and walked to the large window in the room, shoving the curtains apart. It wasn’t even dawn yet. Instead of forcing herself back to bed, she got dressed and filled her book bag with works files and her laptop. Her favorite diner was thankfully open this early in the morning, she could attempt to get some work done there. Or just fall asleep at the table. Either felt preferable than staying here.
“I’ll invite Evelyn and Sloan after I’ve had at least two espressos.” She muttered to herself on her way out the front door to the house.
Current time: 6:28AM
She occupied a little corner table beside a window so she could people watch when she wasn’t typing into her laptop or organizing files covering almost every surface of the table. “None of these are suitable.” Whispering her disappointment onto a checklist she was reading through. She had plenty of career options, she wasn’t stuck but none of them spoke to her. She sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. She didn’t want to return to being a combat medic but that was so far the most preferable option.
She read over the lists and descriptions again, not noticing the bell to the diner door ringing in someone else’s entrance. A large well-built man entered the establishment, quickly picking out Aileen among the customers. She didn’t notice him walk up to the table until he pulled up a chair and sat directly across from her.
She looked surprised, not many people just randomly decide to sit with her. Invited or uninvited. He had subtle possibly Italian features and wore some form of military attire.
“Good morning.” Her greeting was kind, but confusion wasn’t hard to hear in her tone.
The man nodded at her greeting. “Good morning, Dr. Morgan. I hear you’re looking for a job.”