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The forest was silent as the grave as she moved between the massive trunks of the ancient trees. Tension hung in the air, thick as tar and palpable, it pushed its way in to her lungs and made her feel as if she were suffocating on it. To say that it was difficult to know what was wrong would have been an understatement… it was impossible to know what was wrong. No one was speaking… not the sly fox, the brave wolf, nor the playful squirrel. Even the birds, with their bright feathers and large voices were silent, huddled within their nests, nooks, and crannies, unwilling to make themselves known.

No amount of pulling at the invisible threads connecting her to the swaths of life around her seemed to stir her family from the still, anxious state they’d tucked themselves in to, and worry gnawed at the delicate creature’s belly. The reed fibers that had been woven and fashioned in to her sparse closing shifted tight against her tough skin, and part of her wished she could peel the clothing away from her figure, but the druids that occasionally came to the forest had made it clear that it bothered them. They’d been kind enough to fashion the clothing for her, and though she’d altered them to cover far less skin, she continued to wear them so as to not upset them again.

“Why is everyone so quiet?” came her quiet voice. The sound ranged between the soft growl of an animal and the call of a bird on the wing, with just enough of a smooth tone to sound semi human. Moving to one of the massive trees, she let her small hands with their long, slender fingers rest against the tree bark, stroking it gently. “Why are you hiding?” But no answer came. Not a creature stirred, not a single branch shuddered.

Frowning in her growing anticipation, she was about to turn back, to go back to the thicket she called her resting place and follow the example set by her family when a noise caught her attention. Blinking wide yellow eyes, she turned toward the source of the noise. Crackling and snapping preceded a sudden roar and rush of heat that made her skin suddenly feel brittle and dry, and a cry left the creature as she stumbled backward. Like a wave, the fire pushed toward her, reaching for her, licking at her skin and pulling a scream of pain from her. Fear filled her wild eyes, with their oval pupils as the gentle creature turned to run. Birds burst from the foliage around her, animals gave their warning cries, and the forest was swallowed by a wave of fear as it’s occupants ran for their lives.

“Run!” she cried, and the animals echoed her sentiments, but even as the animals led her run for freedom from the hot evil that chased them, a strong push of wind met her, causing her to stumble backward. She watched her friends run along unhindered in confusion and terror, trying desperately to push past the wall of air that continued to buffet her backward. “Help!” Unable to move forward, she turned, expecting to have the flames swallow her whole, only to feel the air begin to swirl wildly around her. Something firm and unforgiving found her wrists, pulling her hard toward the ground, where she landed on her knees.

“Help!” another scream of terror as the wind picked up leaf, twig, and dirt and caused them to swirl wildly around her kneeling form. “Please…” A pained whimper escaping her lips, she looked down, finding herself staring at thick, foreign vines wrapped around her arms and looping themselves up around her thighs, tying her to the ground. Breathing heavily, she coughed and sputtered as the flame formed a circle around her new prison, and her body trembled as she looked up in time to see the flames part.

Stepping through the flames as if they were a curtain came two figures, swathed in heavy robes. “I told you it would not be a difficult conquest,” came a male voice.

“Indeed, though her lack of resistance makes me wonder if she will suit our needs?”

“Well we will find out, won’t we?”

A gruff sound of affirmation escaped the second man’s voice a moment before something hard struck the back of the creature’s head a moment before the world went black around her.

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Cain, Abel, Seth, Abigail, Peter, David, Luke… for what felt like the hundredth time that day, Eve’s mind ran over the names of her children. Adam was out with the older children, hunting and gathering food for the night’s meals, while Eve was left to relax for a few quiet moments, her hands sliding over the swell of her belly. This pregnancy was different, despite the fact that everyone was acting the same.

It wasn’t the same because the night she’d conceived had been different from all the other times. Her beloved hadn’t said a word to her… he’d simply come to their bed, pressed her in to the furs beneath her, and had her. There hadn’t been anything tender or loving in his touches, and his kisses felt more hungry than passionate… he’d acted like a man starved and deprived. His skin had felt hot to the touch, but he failed to sweat, and he met her eyes only once, when he was filling her with the child now growing within her womb.

After, he’d never spoken of it. Eve worried he was angry with her for something, but nothing in his eyes or on his face suggested such. As Eve continued to fret, the little life within her stirred, kicking rapidly. She was so tired these days… carrying this child was more draining than the others, and as her grip on consciousness began to fade, her mind seemed to come alive with color and sound.

Waking on a bed of plush green grass, Eve sat up to find herself back in the place she’d been sure she’d never see again. Lush green foliage and bright, colorful flowers were all around her. Confusion muddled her thoughts as she stared around Eden, sure she had to be imagining the entire thing. Even as she stood, her feet sinking in to the soft grass, she watched as creatures went about their lives as if they hardly noticed her. Among them, she saw, was a great serpent, longer than she remembered it ever being before. 

A sense of dread swelled up within her even as the child within her womb stirred, kicking and turning, twisting and battering her insides with it’s fists excitedly. Protective hands moved to her belly, covering it as if to hide her child from the evil descending from one of the massive trees. Scales shining in the dappled sunlight, the creature slithered toward her and Eve took a small step back. “Stay back! I’ll not succumb to your temptations again!” she insisted, voice trembling just a bit.

“Sss… Oh, but darling Eve, you already have…” She could swear she heard the animal laugh as it slithered around her slowly, wrapping around her legs and sliding up them as if they were slender tree trunks.

“What are you doing?” she whispered, feeling the creature’s heavy form sliding up between her thighs and up, around her hips and torso. It moved over her bare belly and Eve found herself shuddering, her hands desperately trying to push the thing away from the skin that separated her unborn child from the outside world. “St-stop…”

“I just wanted to say hello to the little princcccccce,” she snake hissed, it’s head sliding around her neck, down between her bare breasts, to nuzzle itself against her belly.

“Prince?” Eve’s voice quivered slightly.

“Oh, yesssss… you ssssshhhhaaallll ssssseeeee,” again she could swear the animal was laughing at her.

A cry of pain erupted from Eve’s lips as she woke suddenly, her hands moving to her belly. It was hard to the touch and even though she was convinced it was too soon, the labor pains hit her with sudden, rapid succession. Her hands gripped at the furs beneath her as she panted hard. The pain was blinding… worse than it had ever been with her other children, and even as she trembled and felt sweat beading on her brow, she whimpered. When the contraction ended at long last, she collapsed, her eyes rolling back in her head once more.

Eve’s eyes opened once more, snapping open to stare around her. The trees were orange and red, burning, and the cries of animals fleeing their homes hit her ears with piercing clarity. “What’s going on?” she breathed, and once more the snake seemed to laugh. 

“The prince is coming,” it hissed, tongue dancing over her bare, hot flesh.

She could feel the grass at her feet heating, turning black and hard, cutting in to her flesh, and the pain was swelling once more, she could feel it as she collapsed to her knees in the blackened, dead grass. “Make it stop…”

Another scream escaped Eve’s lips as she woke to find Adam’s worried face hovering over him. Their adult daughter, Abigail was there, moving between her mother’s legs. “The baby is coming already?” her daughter asked in worry, and Eve could only nod while somewhere, in the back of her mind, she heard the serpent’s voice once more. The princcccccce issssssss coming.

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You’ve read my story, but you do not know my name. You’ve visited my world in books, paintings, and film and yet you never knew I existed. You’ve chased white rabbits and had tea with mad men, you’ve raced right by me while being chased by a cruel monarch and yet you never saw me standing by.

I’ve lived my life here in this place where things become curioser and curioser, all but a prisoner in my own home. She will never say my name… in fact I don’t think I’ve ever heard her so much as mutter it. I’m “girl”, I’m “music maker”, I’m “entertainment”. But I have no name of my own, nothing to reveal who I truly am. I am the one whose birthright threatens her existence. I’m the one who was stolen from her mother’s home in the middle of the night by mad men bearing hearts on their arms.

I am the girl who grew up in the dark, waifish and scrawny, with only a piano to keep her company, learning to play on the distented keys, learning to ignore the way they changed positions, to anticipate their “off” days and pull out pleasant melodies even when the creatures within didn’t want to sing on tune. I am the shadow that’s never spoken of, overlooked and underfed, kept secreted away in a dark, cramped room where I’m forced to sleep on the floor in the curve of the piano’s front.

I play because the melody is my only friend… even when I’m allowed out of my prison, I’m not permitted to speak, nor to be spoken to. They’re not allowed to look at me, the fops who curry her favor, nor am I ever allowed to make eye contact with even the lowliest chamber maid. I don’t know why no one come for me… I can only assume they believe me dead, beheaded like so many others who failed to stay in the Queen’s favor. Why she hasn’t killed me, I’m not sure… but I am sure of one thing…

She will come to regret it.

For tonight I sip from a small vial, feeling myself shrink to the size of a door-mouse, and crawl beneath the door to my prison. My bare feet carry me at a dead run through the winding, confusing corridors of this cursed place, and I hear her screaming in her sleep… I hear her calling for more blood, more death, more heads. I hear her screaming in to the night, but know that no one will go to wake her, for fear of her screaming again… and meaning it this time.

It’s in the great hall that I find myself after nearly an hour of running on my tiny, spindly legs. There are no guards, the room is empty and closed off… I only managed to get in by sliding under the door. Inside, I find the package I hid two days ago… Nestled behind the sheet music on the great piano I’ve been forced to sit at for hours at a time, literally chained to the leg of the thing, I find a piece of cake, wrapped in linen. A nibble brings me back to my normal height and it is then that the real work begins…

I’ve seen enough of this prison, I’ve heard enough of the screaming, I’ve experienced enough of the horrors. I’ve been pinned beneath the man with one eye while he growls and presses my face in to the dirty sleeping mat, his body slamming against mine again and again. I’ve shed enough tears in this place, been mocked by enough furniture and been part of the scenery for far too long. I’ll suffer it no longer. The book of music is right where he said it would be… He could die for helping me, but the look of rebellion is in his eyes as it is in mine, and he’s far from the castle by now, leaving me behind to finish the task set.

With the old music knocked aside and the new music open in front of me, I put my fingers to the keys. Before I’m three notes in, I can see the piano morphing, growing, changing. It goes from a grand wooden thing, stately and unyielding in it’s box-like form, to something alive… growing from the top of itself up, until the wood becomes shaped to the very castle I’ve been trapped in since I was a babe. The guards can hear the music, but cannot figure out where it is coming from… it fills the place, sounding as if it’s in every room, and the fires in their braziers and candles and torches are leaping with vigor, licking at the walls, the ceilings, the curtains… licking… searching… for something to spread to.

I can tell it’s happening within moments, because screams erupt through the palace. People are calling for water… others are screaming to flee as the fire engulfs entire rooms and shatters windows. I can hear her… my captor… my tormentor… screaming. ‘Who is burning my home?! OFF WITH THEIR HEAD!’ she cries, but soon enough even her shrieks are blocked out by the roar of the flames. Above me, the castle atop the piano burns. I watch fire erupt from the windows, watch great, ghostly trees begin to force their way up and through it, and listen to the rumble around me as it happens…

Fire purges the evil within, and nature grows up to reclaim the land that is rightfully it’s own. The floor beneath me quakes and I watch the black and white checkered tiles begin to slip and slide, great blocks of stone carried in by slave labor, as it shifts out of place. My own stool drops a bit as the piano is forced upward, but still I keep playing. I will play until it is done. I will play until they all burn… even if it means I must burn with them.

My mother swore an oath never to harm another living being, but I have no such promises to keep.

I am the White Queen’s daughter, and I am taking my kingdom back.

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HomoPiscis?” the woman’s voice was disbelieving and perhaps more than a bit outraged as she read the plaque situated in front of the massive tank. It’s water was far from clear… murky and hard to see through, but the look on her face made it clear she didn’t actually believe there was anything to see.

“Yes, Doctor. HomoPiscis. Obviously this isn’t an accepted term among the scientific community… but as far as the scientific community is concerned, what is in that tank doesn’t actually exist.” The man standing nearby was dressed like he belonged on a beach in Hawaii more than in the huge laboratories she’d been touring all day, with his khaki shorts, Hawaiian shirt, and flipflops. Even his hair was far from professional, hanging around his face in slightly stringy blonde waves. Most of what she had seen were normal sea animals, being tested and observed in tanks that had been set up to be as much like the creature’s natural environment as possible.

“Very funny joke. What’s really in there? Let me guess… this tank isn’t actually being used for anything and you all slapped a plaque in front of it as a joke for the new staff. Well, it was a nice try, but I’m not biting.” A slender hand lifted to tuck frizzy brown curls back behind her small ear and green eyes rolled in mild annoyance at the thought that they actually believed this was the appropriate kind of joke to play.

“Oh I assure you, Doctor… this is no joke. Mai is a little shy, but she’s in there. We’ve been searching for a mate for her, but unfortunately, they’re a little hard to find, and almost impossible to catch. We only got Mai because she washed up during a mass whale beaching at an undisclosed location.”

“Undisclosed?” Lilian still didn’t sound convinced, her brow arched over the top rim of her glasses.

“That’s classified, I’m afraid. Only those researching the specimen are privy to that information.”

Scoffing, Dr. Lilian Rogers was ready to walk away from the tank when something heavy thudded against the glass. Head snapping back toward it, she found herself staring at something that was too incredible to believe. A hand was pressed to the glass, it’s arm connected to a body obscured by the murky hue of the water. A large fin fluttered through the water nearby, it’s tip peeking out over the surface of the water itself. Wide eyed, the academic immediately moved closer, staring in disbelief as the hand slid along the glass, fingertips tapping lightly against it. “Unbelievable…” she murmured.

She was just lowering her head to stare closely at the hand, determined to find something to prove that it was an ellaborate hoax, when it pulled away and was replaced suddenly by a face. Startled by the pair of wide eyes that stared through the glass at her, Lilian screamed and stumbled back slightly, one hand pressed to her heart as she tried desperately to calm it’s rapid pace and breathe normally once more. The creature that stared back at her was remarkably human in appearance, with a cloud of red hair floating around her, a delicately boned face, and lush lips. Her skin, though pale white and soft looking, glistened in the obscured light from above, and Lilian could make out what looked to be the faint outlines of small scales.

The girl’s eyes were wide and an odd shade of amber, and what looked to be two sets of eyelids slid over them now and then as she stared out at the human gawking at her. A hand lifted once more, pressing to the glass, and Lilian could describe the look on her face as nothing short of heartbreaking… She looked so sad, so confused. Compelled by something she couldn’t begin to understand, she lifted her own hand to press it to the glass, listening as Mai’s lips parted, revealing two rows of teeth that were sharper than a normal human’s. A moment later, as Liliana was watching the flickering of gills along the girl’s neck moving slightly, Mai let out a long, sad sounding cry that could have been described as a whales, though higher pitched and softer, before she pushed back from the glass, swimming upside down momentarily before disappearing back in to the murk.

Liliana was still standing there with her hand against the glass and shock written across her features when Dylan spoke once more. “You’re lucky, Doctor. Mai seems to like you… most people go months before they get their first sighting of her like that. Usually we have to wait till she’s in the observation and testing tanks to be able to really get a good look at her.”

“Was that…” Lilian couldn’t make the next words coming.

“A mermaid? Yes, though we prefer the scientific term.”

“HomoPiscis.”

“Exactly.”

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The piano that sat in the day room of the old Victorian had known many players over the years… and many voices had lifted up to join it’s melodies and fill the home with music. Whether the music had been joyful or mourning, angry or inspiring… the instrument had never sat unattended long. Many hands had tuned it, lessons had been given and rehearsals had been performed. As she sat there staring at the piano from across the room, curled in the large arm chair that still smelled of pipe tobacco and spearmint, she could still hear the lively Christmas carols and the bawdy, somewhat off-tune singing of her Great Aunt Marguerite.

She could remember the way her mother’s delicately boned fingers had danced over ebony and ivory like stream water over smooth stones, the way her brothers and sisters had fallen asleep on the nearby couch listening to silly lullabies and the way her father had told her stories about far off lands and men and women so brave, so magnificent that they couldn’t ever have been real. She could remember the way her Grandmama would always turn to her daughter when she came to visit. “Play me a song, Rose. Please play me a song.” The old woman’s hands had held a tremor in them even when she was only in her fifties and sixties… she’d long since lost her ability to play with any real finesse, and so her only moments to experience the peace music could bring, however second hand they were, only came during her visits with the young family.

Anette could remember the day she’d met the man who would later become her husband… He was 17 then, and Anette, only 15… had no idea that the beautiful boy with the graceful fingers and deep, soulful blue eyes would ever be more than a school girl crush. She had no way of knowing, as she sat on the stairs listening to her mother lecture him on the important of patience when playing Moonlight Sonata… that she was listening to her future. She had no idea that ten years later, both her parents would be interred in the local cemetery within weeks of each other, and that her husband would spend hours playing at that piano to soothe the shattered soul of his young wife and their three daughters.

She had no idea that the day she’d snapped at him for taking too long “playing around on that damn piano” when they were running late for a meeting with the local private school’s Head Master about getting their twins in despite the long waiting list and strict acceptance guidelines, would be the last time she’d ever hear him pull a tune from the object that had sat in that room for decades before she’d been born. She’d been unable to get closer to it than she was in that moment since the night a drunk driver stole her hopes and dreams from her, but it didn’t matter…

Even now, as she slowly rose from the arm chair and moved to kneel before the piano, her head coming to rest against it…

She could still hear him playing. Five years later, and she could still hear Moonlight Sonata played just a bit too fast, and Claire de Lune pulled from the depths of it, floating around her to caress her like the hands of a lover. She could still remember them… remember them all…

Every. Last. Note.

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“If God had a name, what would it be?” 

Eeeee! I LOVE this song!” The squeal that left the tiny, white haired girl’s lips was high pitched and excited, and followed by her jumping out of her chair behind her desk and climbing up on top of it, feet braced shoulder width apart as her hips began to gyrate in slow circles and her knees bounced, causing the long lengths of her pigtails to sway around her in an odd manner.

Standing a few feet away and looking slightly vexed by this change of activity stood Gabriel, so very dapper in his three piece suit with his long auburn hair pulled back in to a ponytail. “I know,” he answered dryly, but it was clear she wasn’t listening to him.

Dancing in a circle, papers and parchments went slipping off the edges of the desk, the baby pink Hello Kitty coffee mug filled with pens and quills from various ages getting knocked over, sending the items scattering around the floor as a pair of ankle sock covered feet carried her over the desk, dancing her around. Her legs were bare and Gabriel could see the little grey and pink polka-dot panties she wore under the soft pink t shirt that hung to mid-thigh on her, “University of Heaven” printed across her gently bouncing breasts.

“Do you know why I love this song, Gay-bee-bay-bee?” she crooned from atop the desk as she shimmied to the left… then the right… leaving Gabriel to watch in silence as all the organizing he’d done not long prior was completely ruined.

“Why is that?” he asked, trying to keep the strain and annoyance out of his voice.

“Because it’s about ME!” she squealed, moments before taking up the bridge of the song. “And yeah… yeah… God is great! And yeah… yeah… God is good… SING IT GAY-BEE!”

“Please don’t call me Gay-bee.”

“SING IT!”

Sigh. “What if God was one of us,” Gabriel piped in in a slightly monotone voice, watching his boss as she jumped off the desk with an excited squeal and bounced across the room to the huge bed piled with more stuffed animals than should ever be allowed. She scooped up massive gray teddy bear so big he couldn’t really see her around it, just her slender arms and legs as she danced and bounced on the bed, sending the stuffed toys flying everywhere. “Just a slob like one of us? Just a stranger on a bus, trying to make his way home…

“MORE FEELING!” came the squeal from the bed, moments before Gabriel was deftly dodging a large purple unicorn that came flying at him from the mound on the bed.

Groan. “If God had a face, what would it look like?

“MINE!” another squeal as his small, white haired creator lept off the bed to grab a round baby blue hairbrush and thrust it in to his hand.

And would you wanna see, if seeing meant that you would have to believe in things like heaven? And Jesus and the saints?

She took over at that, grabbing her own hair brush, this one white with pink glittery sparkles all over it. “And yeah! Yeah! God is GREAT! And yeah! Yeah! God is good! Yeah yeah yeah! SING WITH ME GAY-BEE!”

Buckling to the pressure, Gabriel gripped the hair brush in his hand and fell to his knees dramatically, lifting his eyes to look at her as hands gestured to her as he sang and she danced around him, both singing in unison. “What if GOD was one of us?! Just a SLOB like one of us?! Just a stranger on a bus, trying to make his way hooooome?!

The song continued on with Gabriel looking like an over-zealous banker at a rock concert, his ponytail swirling around as he sang and the sixteen year old looking young woman dancing around him as they grooved out.

Nobody calling on the phone… cept maybe the Pope in Rome…

The song tapered off to its end and just as it did, snow white pig tails whipped around a petite body as she spun and spun and ran right in to… a body. Squeaking and stumbling back with a giggle, she looked up at a slightly disgruntled young man with liberty spiked hair, currently dyed an obnoxiously bright shade of blue, several piercings, and one long, uneven line of mascara from the middle of his lower right eyelid to halfway down his cheek. “Really, Mom?”

“Jesus!”

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Contagion

Hands, slender and long-nailed with ghastly white skin reached out for the terrified face of the man whose words had sealed its fate. His eyes were wide with terror, and his mouth opened in a silent scream as those deathly hands gripped his face and held tight, not allowing him to move from his place in the high backed leather chair he graced as if it were a throne. Holding him still, the wild eyed creature climbed up on to the wooden surface of the desk as bony fingers slid back, wrapping around the sides of his neck, finding their way in to the hair there that seemed to thin rapidly with every passing second.

As items fell from the desk, scattered to the floor like so many forgotten pieces of refuse. Papers fluttered through the air as bare feet kicked them aside and the hunkered form continued its predatory climb up, across, and onto the creature’s prey. Stringy hair a mixture of white and black and stained with something that resembled old blood hung in to those wide, intense eyes as the hollow-cheeked abomination crouched there on the desk. “Look at me,” the voice was a hiss, too reptilian to be human but too clear to be animal, and jagged nails dragged across the man’s face.

Blood gathered rapidly at the surface of his skin before beginning to run down his cheeks, pooling in the place where the nightmare’s hands pressed to his skin. His blue eyes continued to stare off in to the distance, not focusing. He wouldn’t… No, couldn’tfocus. It would seal his doom, he knew it. An angry sound left the creature, as if air were rapidly escaping between its pointed teeth and the stench of death flowed over his face. “Look. At. Me!” the voice insisted again, and he felt his head being squeezed in warning, as if it were going to be crushed like a pimple.

Still he resisted, but when the abnormally, inhumanly strong hands shook him hard, making him feel like a rag doll despite being rigid with terror, his fight fled from him. “Look at me!” He looked. His blue eyes met those rage-filled ones and he was aware for only a second that the creature had one. Pale, thin lips stretched over jagged, dangerous teeth in a cruel smile and a sound that rumbled like a hiss and a growl in the back of the creature’s throat sent terrified chills down his spine. “You broke your word,” the creature whispered in that deathly voice as it leaned in closer. He could feel the moisture of its breath now, could hear the promise of violence in every uttered syllable.

Nails dug in to the skin beneath the hair on his neck, blood gathered around the puncture wounds and began to drip from there, sliding down and staining the collar of his once clean white button-up shirt. “You broke your word and now you have to pay. Now you have to suffer like I suffered.” Little more than a terrified whimper left him at those words, and the creature let slip what could be assumed was a laugh but was too malicious to hold any mirth at all. “You smell like fear. Are you afraid? Yes? Good. Let me show you what happens to betrayers.”

Hissing again, the creature stood on the man’s desk, spindly legs unfolding until it stood straight, simultaneously lifting him bodily from his chair until he hung from the creature’s grip, his toes nearly a foot from the floor. Two easy steps carried the monster to the edge of the desk before it jumped down and dragged him, still holding his bleeding head in its hands, to the tall mirror on the far wall. Thrust before it, the creature stood behind him, peering over his shoulder and grinning a feral, murderous grin. His reflection was pale, and growing steadily more so, his eyes were wild and terrified, his hair was thinning and growing out, his teeth were rotting and breaking until his gums were black and the teeth themselves were jagged and terrifying. He seemed to be growing thinner and thinner as the creature watched, the human in its hands rapidly seeming to mimic its looks.

As he watched in horror, his mouth opened to let loose…

~*~*~*~*~

A wretched scream left Dr. Jacob Ryan’s throat as he arched and writhed, fighting against the restraints that held him down to the bed. The saddened green eyes of his once-colleague looked down at him while a male orderly delivered another tranquilizer shot to his thigh. As he began to calm, he murmured incoherently and Rebecca Mardsen waved the orderly away. “You can go,” she said quietly. She wanted to be alone with her newest patient.

When the door to the cell-like room closed behind him, Rebecca leaned down to lift one of his eyelids, looking at his dilated pupil for a moment before shaking her head and standing. Looking down at the file in her hand, she frowned. The last file Jacob had begun had been on himself and it contained a paper he’d begun working on just days before falling ill. The title ‘Contagious Psychosis’ was typed neatly across the top of the paper in bold font.

Shaking her head, she turned to leave the room as she began to read, and just before she cleared the door, she heard an odd sound from behind her. The malicious half-hissed laugh sent a chill down her spine, but when she turned to look back at him, Jacob’s form was still and the sound was still echoing through the room. Frowning, she stepped in to the hall and pulled the door shut firmly, trying to shake the feeling left behind in the silence after the laugh stopped abruptly.

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