I am posting this as rated as Teen as the canon goes to some dark and bleak places. It is not always therapeutic to consume such media, so you may want to read some of my jollier stories instead.
Trigger warnings: descriptions of illness, suicide references, gaslighting.
The title is from Road to Your Soul by All About Eve, which I feel fits thematically with this story. But if I am honest I wrote this while listening to Morrissey. It was one of those days.
This is a long and horrible story. You probably don't want to hear it.
No. Please, tell me. If you want to, that is.
You won't think of me the same again... No, I think I can trust you.
It was like those first few moments when you awake from a vivid, all consuming dream. You know that wasn't reality, but you aren't quite sure what is. I remembered who I was. Vaguely. I knew I had important things to do, and I couldn't get them done while I was being held in this room.
But everything was foggy and indistinct. Nobody talked to me much, and when they did they issued orders to me. When they spoke everything sounded distorted, as if under water. They totally disregarded what I said to them. When I refused to comply, they forced me to do what they wanted. If it wasn't such a fanciful notion I would have said it was like being experimented upon by aliens.
I was tired a lot of the time. If I didn't feel sleepy before the visitations, I soon would after one of them had put a needle in me. I didn't recognise any of them. Or perhaps I did, but I did not know who they were. Not unusual. There were a lot of employees and I did not make a habit of striking up unnecessary conversations.
I spent most of my time in various states of sickness and pain. On that lovely sliding scale between moderate and severe. At times I was endlessly screaming. In my head or out loud, I do not know.
It may have been after a few days, or a few weeks – time was compressed or stretched by an unknown amount here – I realised why I couldn't see well. I wore glasses. And I didn't have them. My prescription has never been strong, but I have astigmatism and wear a tint that makes the harsh indoor lighting more bearable. There was no table next to the bed. No lamp, no book to read to pass the time. Not even the perfunctory Bible.
I realised I didn't have a memory of eating anything in some time. Not that I had been hungry. There had been near constant nausea ever since I remembered being trapped in this room.
My glasses must be somewhere, I thought, and tried to get out of bed. A simple exercise. Or it used to be. I hit my head and realised I was on the floor. I learnt to keep my emotions to myself long ago, but I wanted to cry. An alarm was going off. Simultaneously inside my head and in the building next door.
I was scooped up and deposited back in bed. They treated me like a rare and expensive vase, fragile but an object nonetheless. I hated how nurses fussed around me during previous medical procedures, but their overbearing kindness would have not been unwelcome at that point.
"Why won't you tell me what's wrong with me?" I asked, grabbing hold of the sleeve of one of the faceless, unknown people before he could leave.
A terrified, young face looked down upon me from beyond its transparent plastic square. These people were wearing full cleanroom suits. Why had I not noticed before? I laughed. Of course. I'd lost my marbles hadn't I?
The owner of the terrified face mumbled something about how he wasn't supposed to talk to me.
I did my best to pull myself together despite the frankly terrible state I was in. "I demand that you do talk to me. Tell me why I am here and what you are doing to me."
Terrified face was trying to struggle out of my grip. It was no great feat.
Time passed. I had recurrent dreams of an old colleague of mine. No, not an old colleague. I'd only seen him yesterday. Whenever yesterday was. The last normal day. Time did not exist in this dreadful place.
"Adam! Adam! Adam!" I screamed at the medic who happened to be prodding me. She shrieked and some equipment clattered to the ground. She rushed towards the door, almost tripping and grabbed the telephone off the wall. "For god's sake someone get in here right now," she said shakily and then was gone.
Someone else came and sedated me. I felt my heart rate slow and the dizzy drowsy feeling overcame me.
Adam was standing the corner of the room, his back to me. I called out to him. "Why are you ignoring me? Dear god, why did you ignore me then?" I realised I was standing up. And for once not wearing a hospital gown. It came to me again in flashes. A chase. A struggle. Adam. Pressing a button. I thought he would come to help me. But he did not.
"You're lucky I wasn't badly injured," I said, walking towards him.
Adam turned around. "Oh, but you were," he said. On his face was a smile like a rictus grin. The bottom fell out of the world and I was falling down a hole.
"Adam?" I said when I opened my eyes.
The first thing I noticed was that I was no longer lying down. Somebody had sat me in a chair. I couldn't move my arms or legs. I had been tethered to the chair. Wonderful.
I could see a smartly dressed woman looking at me from the other side of a partially frosted window. "Hello Mason, I am Shirley from Human Resources," she said.
"You may not use my first name, Ms-"
"Ms Shirley," I said. I looked around and snorted. "What is this? Prison?"
Shirley did not engage. "I have come here to talk to you today Mason. We want you to understand what has happened and what is going to happen."
"If there were any irregularities in my taxes, I am sure we can come to an arrangement. This is not necessary." I smirked, trying to regain control. Trying to will the situation into something I could deal with.
"You've had an accident. I'm very sorry to tell you this, but it was quite serious."
"Oh. This is the afterlife." I sighed. "Grim. But I wasn't expecting angels with harps and trumpets. My pessimism has prepared me for-" I wanted to wave my hand but could not. I jerked my head to one side. "-whatever this is."
She could have laughed. Smiled even. Accepted my little joke. Any hope that Shirley, if that was her real name, had a shred of humanity eroded before my eyes. She seemed to be reading from a script. "We are afraid you are unlikely to make a recovery. But in recognition of your services to the company, the costs of your ongoing medical treatment to prolong your life will be covered."
"Generous." I said, rolling my eyes. "I want to speak to Adam."
A flicker of something crossed her face, but was quickly hidden behind the neutral mask. "I'm afraid that is not possible."
"Adam will know what is wrong with me. He will find some way or other to cure me." I found myself smiling at the thought of how irritatingly smart he was. This time it would work in my favour.
"We need to discuss-"
"It is his fault," I said. "You do know that, right?"
"This was an unfortunate accident at work. We are looking into measures we can put in place to prevent a recurrence."
"Tell me you checked the CCTV cameras?"
"That is not important right now."
"Ms Shirley, I think it actually is."
"You have nothing to worry about. The company will cover all of the costs. You will be cared for. It will be arranged for your house or apartment to be cleared. All of your affairs will be put in order. There will be no debts or costs passed onto your next of kin, if any."
I scoffed. Did she know my family were all dead? Or did she take a cursory look at my file and assume I had no loved ones? Then the rest of what she had said sunk in.
"Wait. What? No, you do not have my permission to do any of that. I will be returning to my... house or apartment shortly. In fact I am feeling much better. Would somebody kindly unstrap me from this chair?"
"Mason, you don't understand. You have had a serious accident. You will not make a full recovery. But there is no reason to worry, the company will take care of everything."
"Oh, it's a serious accident now? And suddenly the possibility of recovery has diminished to zero?" I tried to chase away the building despair with anger. "Do you think perhaps you could explain exactly what has happened to me?"
"All in good time." Shirley clasped her hands together.
"You promised at the start of this conversation to tell me what happened to me. I have not lost my memory."
"We will give you all of the details at the right time. All you need to know for now is that you are being taken care of in the best way possible."
"I want a lawyer."
"Oh no no, that won't be necessary. The company has no intention of denying any of your wishes."
"Then let me go. I wish to return home. You have kept me at work far past the legal limits."
"We're very sorry, but you cannot leave. You can request anything you wish and it will be brought to you, within reason of course."
"Dr Adam Kane."
Shirley shook her head. "I'm afraid that won't be possible."
"You keep saying that. I'll tell you his extension. Call him. If he isn't there, one of his team will find him."
"Dr Kane is no longer working for the company."
"What? But he was here yesterday." I said. Whenever yesterday was. "He did not mention this to me. We are good friends, he would have told me. You have made a mistake."
"No, no mistake."
"Let me out of here. I'll find him myself."
"We're very sorry, that will not be possible."
"For your continued survival, you must remain in a controlled environment."
"I did not give my consent to become a lab rat. Do my services to the company not count for more than this? You have no idea how much I have done for this company. What I have sacrificed. The decisions I have had to make."
"We are very grateful for your contributions. And this is why we are doing everything we can to allow you to live for the longest term possible."
"You're assuming that I want to. I may not wish to live in this condition. What is wrong with me, as it happens? You seem to have forgotten to tell me."
"During the incident you were exposed to substances that reduced your ability to fight disease."
"You mean my immune system has been compromised? Do not talk to me as if I do not understand science. You are clearly too stupid to have found out who I am."
"Compromised is too mild a word, I regret to inform you." Shirley was a smiling a bit. She probably thought I couldn't see that through the glass. "Decimated would be more accurate."
I sat there for a while. Pretending to be strong enough to deal with this news. A small, far away part of me wanted to comment at her misuse of the word decimated. I felt hot and deeply nauseated.
"If there is anything we can do, let us know."
And I wasn't sure why I said it, but I did. "I could have you killed."
"I'm done." Were Shirley's last words. I never saw her again.
Everything was blurry for a while. Time passed. I existed. I had nightmares. I woke. The nightmare began anew.
They must have reduced the drugs again for a while so I was lucid enough to be questioned about Adam. I tried to derail the questioning with my own questions. Nothing was answered. If I was honest, I didn't know if I knew what had happened at all. It was too hazy. All I knew was that Adam was involved. And it was his fault. Did he mean this to happen? Or did he merely not care if it did? The interviewer did not seem to care what had happened. They were more concerned about Adam's possible whereabouts. So Shirley was right in saying he had left.
Yes, that was it. It was as if I had finally found the key to one particular box of memories. Adam had been disgruntled for a while. He used to talk to me a lot, but he had become more distant. The idealistic, horribly positive young scientist I once knew had changed. He talked badly of the company when he did talk to me. I tried to deter him, but he repeatedly said he would do things differently if he had the opportunity. I shared nothing of this with the interviewer. I had no idea whose side they were on.
One of my recurring, pathetic fantasies was of Adam returning to save me. Shouting at the medical staff and whoever was managing them. Taking control and directing the team to create his Nobel Prize winning cure.
I learnt snippets of knowledge from the medical staff who buzzed around me at all hours of the day and probable night. As soon as I built the slightest rapport with any of them, they rotated the staff. I learnt more about my condition, mostly from carelessly abandoned reports. I heard that they considered withdrawing treatment, effectively killing me. But when I confronted them, I was made to believe I had invented that idea.
After much cajoling, I persuaded one of them to bring me my glasses. Why this simple thing was such an ordeal, I did not know. They came in a plastic bag, and whatever they had been cleaned with had taken a layer off the lenses. I only had to ask once for a mirror, oddly enough. But the young medic did not want to hand it to me.
"Worried I will be dazzled by my own good looks?" I said to her, making a grab for the small bagged mirror. She looked like she was going to cry.
Her hesitance was not unfounded. The mirror was over the other side of the room in pieces within seconds. The face I saw could not be my own. Not only pale, but grey around the eye sockets. Sunken and aged terribly. I took pride in keeping my hair perfectly in place, but I could see that it had not only been allowed to grow out of its style, but also had fallen out in at least two places that I could see. Later I would try to estimate the time I had spent in confinement by the length of my remaining hair.
"I was told I can have anything I need," I said. "I want a hair cut and some actual clothes." The young medic was trembling. "And somebody needs to update me on security issues. No, I want a full briefing from the heads of department."
"Yes sir," the medic said, hurrying out of the room.
I smiled in pride. Sir. Somehow hearing that made me feel more like my old self.
They sent someone to assess me for fitness to return to limited duties. But I recognised a counsellor when I saw one. Their cloying way of talking was unmistakable. I made her cry. She did repeatedly ask how I was feeling. I did warn her that she really did not want to know.
Time passed. One who has never suffered from an unending sickness would probably be surprised to hear that it does not get easier. One does not grow used to, or unaffected by pain. Pain changes you, claims you as its own. It wears you down. I had to find a way of existing in spite of the pain.
One day, an old woman had crept into the room while I was sleeping. Unsurprising. Who knew if she was real or imagined.
"Good morning," I said, sitting up. Even that small motion made my head swim.
"Of course. Who can maintain a circadian rhythm in a place like this?"
"Who indeed?" the woman agreed. She was holding some rolled up papers, which she was tapping on her other gloved hand. "Mr Eckhart, I am Miss Briggs. I have been a clinical psychologist for over forty years. Now I am going to be perfectly honestly with you, I have been given a script. But it is bullshit." She tossed the papers over to me.
I had to take my glasses off to make sure I was not imagining it. Reading was not easy in my state. My condition, or whatever drugs I was being pumped full of made my eyesight worse. It was as if someone had recorded a conversation with me, typed it up and gone back in time with the prescience. Perhaps it had already happened and I no longer remembered. Some of the statements attached to me sounded like the words of a lunatic. But none of them were things I had not already said or thought.
"So," I said, "what are we to achieve from this conversation?"
"I intend to do my job. To help my patient. You," Miss Briggs said. "The company has treated you appallingly."
I smirked. "I will sue them in good time."
The woman shook her head. "I wouldn't recommend that."
I narrowed my eyes. "You're just like Shirley."
"I do not know who that is."
I found myself wondering if I imagined Shirley. Or the people who questioned me about Adam. With any luck, the whole of this horror.
I asked her about Adam. If she knew anything she didn't admit to it.
"What are you hoping for in the near future?"
"Well this is a very nice room. Can I not stay?" I couldn't resist giving a sarcastic answer.
But she pressed me for a true answer, and I told her. I wanted to go home. I wanted to go back to work. Back to my old life. I could never say I was exuberantly happy, but the loss of what I had, and yes, the nostalgia even for how things were, almost brought me to tears. I felt so annoyed at myself for not seeing how not dissatisfied I was with my life.
Then they sent me Jacques, a French Canadian stylist. He seemed to know more about my condition than any of the medical staff had. He showed me laminated catalogues of clothes I could have. All care of the company, god bless their generous corporate heart. Apparently I couldn't wear any of my old clothes because they could not be properly sterilised. After a while of trying to convince me to try more extravagant colours, he over complemented my choice of recreating my favourite black suit.
"Ah yes, and a hair cut. I will do for you." Jacques said, and with the mirror he had brought with him gave me a far longer look at my physical state. I watched with considerable despair as his scissors revealed more, larger missing patches in my hair. I waited for him to faun over me, showing the horror from multiple angles, while telling me it wasn't all that bad and nobody could tell. I held my breath to combat the nausea.
He clicked his tongue and said. "No no no, this will not do." He moved my parting to cover one gap, but that revealed another. "Perhaps we can-" He brushed it all forward and in a swoop around, momentarily making me look like an unwell shade of Donald Trump. "No."
"Do you have any hats in your catalogue?"
"You know, is very fashionable option for you. Not bad like the old days. You could try maybe toupee?"
By the time Jacques returned with my new suit and hair, I was able to stand unaided. I had practised getting up and walking a little when nobody was watching me. (They became less attentive after I gave up on trying to pull my tubes out and let nature take its course.) There was no help in respect to physiotherapy. They did not waste their resources on someone who was not going to get better.
I had long given up on being disgusted at needing help to dress. The clothes fit perfectly, and even disguised how skeletal I had become. Jacques pinned the wig, a perfect replica of my former hair, to my remaining hair when I refused to let him shave it off.
"Ah, c'est magnifique!" Jacques exclaimed, running around me with a mirror.
I set my jaw in the furthest expression from disgust that I could muster. "Acceptable." I said. Then added "Thank you," when the stylist looked like he was going to faint. I now felt much more like my old self. "Now it must be time for the monthly meeting with the heads of department." In reality I still had no idea what day it was. But it felt good to say.
In the end it was thanks to Jacques that I was finally able to leave my confinement. His horror that my wonderful clothes would not be seen was replaced by a conviction that Hazmat suits were very in this year.
We were able to cause such confusion among the staff that I was able to slowly make my way over to the main building before a response could be coordinated. The colleagues who I saw expressed shock at seeing me. Someone told me they thought I had died in the incident. By that point I was feeling quite unwell. The pride at returning to work had made me push that feeling to one side up until then. I looked up at the window to my office. It was a mess, and someone I didn't know what literally running around shuffling through papers. Didn't he know I kept a paperless office?
I collapsed shortly after this. And although I had to be treated with numerous antibiotics, my mindset was improving. I knew I could do it. I knew I could return to work.
It took an unknown amount of time to convince them. It helped that colleagues came to visit me. Mostly with issues that they had been sitting on since I had disappeared, which had now progressed to disastrous proportions. But I was only too happy to offer my criticisms of their leadership and instructions to dig themselves out of their respective holes. Without me, the company had started falling apart. Adam's defection had exacerbated things. I heard many things about him. But the general feeling was that we weren't supposed to talk about him any more.
I returned to work at first by proxy. I held court in the room that looked like a prison visiting room, and they brought me a computer so I could communicate by email. At last it seemed they saw sense, Genomex would collapse without my control. They had teams of multi disciplinary scientists work on solutions to my predicament. Some of them were ridiculous.
No, even the one they chose was ridiculous. They developed a second skin for me to wear in the outside world that would block the majority of microorganisms from entering my body and inevitably killing me, what with my defences being zero. I had to undergo a range of additional, temporary or permanent procedures to make it work. I won't go into details. It was and continues to be uncomfortable to the highest degree. But anything is better than being kept in captivity for the rest of my miserable life.
This was the part where they say something like "Oh, you're so brave. I'm so proud of you for getting though this. It must have been awful." Maybe a comforting pat on the shoulder. Or I might even let them hug me.
But of course this person doesn't exist. Because I am only telling this story to an imaginary person in my mind. An idle pastime of mine, to while away the long lonely hours when I can't sleep. I would never tell anyone this story. Nobody is equipped to deal with my truth. Nobody who would still also still look upon me favourably afterwards. I could never trust anyone enough to even attempt it.
The imagined comfort is always bittersweet. The feeling worn into my mind from going over the same old rut so many times. Yet it is completely fake. I have a lot of work to do. Once I had unravelled and solved the (mostly self inflicted) problems the staff had caused, the fallout from Adam's alternate plan to deal with the multiplying New Mutant problem grew and consumed all of my time. He almost killed me. But in a way, he subsequently gave me back my purpose.
I began to almost revel in my sickness, and wrapped it around myself like a protective cloak.
It keeps people away and it stops me from letting people in.
I tell myself I have no time for craving kind words or a touch of a hand, but it is a lie. I have all the time in the world.