As soon as Tabby awoke, she knew something had gone terribly wrong.
She blinked, wincing at the sterile fluorescent lights above her. There was a searing vice engulfing her head, and when she reached up to touch it, she felt bandages. She slowly took in the surroundings, the walls and ceiling white and stark, with the only furniture in the room being the cot that she was currently lying upon.
This shouldn’t be happening. Didn’t the doctor say that the extraction process would not require any invasive surgery? Tabby shut her eyes again, disoriented by all the whiteness. She recalled what she had been told: Just lie on the scanning bed, let the extractor do its thing, and it would be done in three minutes. That was it—or should have been it. After that, she could just jump up, be on her way with a smile, and remember to report back to the clinic in two weeks for the re-assimilation follow-up.
Of course, knowing her history with doctors, she should have predicted that this would turn out to be another mess. Had she really been so desperate to fix her…what was it, psychosis?...that she actually had believed this rubbish that Piece of Mind had been proclaiming? That the psychosis itself could be extracted from the mind, chemically treated to be “cured,” and then stuck back in your brain?
It had been printed in bright, calligraphic lettering on the pamphlet sitting in her mailbox last week: “The most effective, safe, and direct solution to any and all mental illnesses. A medical revolution. No more years of therapy or potentially harmful medications. Be permanently cured of your mental anxieties in a mere two weeks.”
Tabby’s hope was that the Piece of Mind Clinic would be a quicker remedy than her current psychiatrist—number five, to be precise, and just as much a pain in the posterior as the previous four. Just one day in the clinic, the follow-up, and then feign to her new doctor over the next few weeks that she was getting better. A massive head bandage, however, would be difficult to explain. Tabby sat up, groaning.
“Took you long enough to wake up.”
Tabby snapped her head up. There was no one else in the room with her. She could only see two doors, one that led into a small bathroom, and the other she assumed led out into the hallway.
Wonderful, she thought. Whatever they did to me is making me hear voices. I’m suing all these jerk-offs.
Tabby swung her legs around to the side of the bed to stand up, but her legs were gelatin, so she sat for a minute for the feeling to return. The pang in her bladder gave her the incentive she needed, and she pushed herself off the cot, trudging wobbly over to the bathroom.
After she finished, Tabby leaned against the bathroom sink, staring with dark-rimmed eyes at the mirror above it. From the looks of it, her head injury couldn’t be all that bad. All of Tabby’s hair was there, from what she could see, so nothing had been shaved for surgery. She looked her whole body over, but the rest of her seemed fine.
“What’s the matter, Freakshow? Don’t like what you see?” asked the voice she had heard before.
Tabby noticed that, when the voice spoke, there was a small vibration in her right ear. She plugged up her ear with her finger. “Say something else.”
This time, the voice was muffled, but it sounded infuriated at being restrained.
Tabby took her finger out of her ear. “What the heck did those people do to me?”
“Do to us,” the voice corrected. “I was quite happy where I was, before you gave in to all those quacks and shrinks who made you think I was a problem. You’re spineless, Tabitha Forrest, a complete jellyfish. Now unwrap your head.”
Tabby paused, not sure if she liked this voice. “Who are you?”
The voice chuckled. “Only now you’re asking that? You know who I am. You just don’t want to admit it. You don’t want to admit that I’m a separate entity from you. Then you’d realize you were subjecting a living thing to scientific experiment—maybe even torture, I don’t know what those knife-happy hacks had planned. But I’d rather not find out, so get this bandage off and let’s make tracks.”
Tabby suddenly understood. “Y…you’re what the clinic was going to take out of me?”
“Ding, we have a winner.”
“But…no, they were removing my psychosis. That’s an intangible thing. It’s like a…thought, or a brain wave. You’re not alive.”
The voice seethed hot venom, causing Tabby’s ear to burn. “Look, I’d love to wax philosophical with you all day long—no I wouldn’t—but I don’t want those freaks shoving us back in that crazy machine to pull me the rest of the way out. So move your fat butt already!”
“What do you mean, ‘rest of the way out’?”
“Hey, I wasn’t being torn out without a fight. I got a little…stuck.”
Tabby’s hands frantically unwrapped the layers of bandages around her head, unspiraling the fabric with the speed of an excited child opening a Christmas present. As the length of gauze fell to the floor, Tabby stared at her image in the mirror, petrified at the eyes glaring back at her.
The eyes set in her forehead, right above her own normal eyes.
These new eyes were slightly smaller than her own, almond-shaped and emerald green, making Tabby’s brown eyes look dull and drab. They were strangely beautiful, yet harbored a glint of maliciousness.
“How disgusting,” the manifested brain-child said. “You look like something out of a zombie horror flick.”
Appropriately enough to that comment, Tabby screamed.* * *