The clock chimes down the hall at the first stroke of midnight, and my eyes bolt open. The sound of footsteps echoing begins.
I barely have time to register that thought as the door bursts open. I cover my face, attempting to pull the covers over to protect myself, but I know it’s no use. They pull the blankets off the bed, leaving me exposed in my nightgown only. Their icy hands grip my wrists and ankles, pulling my limbs to the four posts to tie to as I wriggle and writhe.
“No, please. Not tonight. Please. I’m so tired. Please…” I beg and whimper, but they do not stop.
The room is mostly dark except for the flicker of their shadows on the white walls. Cold, leather straps tighten around my wrists and ankles, spreading my body open. Snickering filling the room. The belts squeak against the posts as they’re stretched. My blood flow, restricted by the taut leather, is causing my heartbeat to thump loudly through my hands and feet.
“You know the drill. Strip her and cover her mouth,” one of them shouts.
Stiff fingers rip at the seams of fabric in the nightgown. I’ve lost count now that they have destroyed how many. I always wake up with a fresh one each day, ready to go. The laughter and rip echo loudly as the tears water as their hard fingers pull at my skin. The smell of sterile alcohol hits my nose, and I unsuccessfully fight and wriggle away. Cold, hard fabric is rubbing my body down. There’s no care given as they scrub my skin against the marks from previous restraints, scratches, and bruises I’ve received from trying to fight them off.
“Why do you keep fighting us?” the lead one says, “You know it’s hopeless. We always come for you. You can’t escape us. No matter what you try… it’s been how many days, months, years of this? How long can you last?”
I grit my teeth, seething. This one’s voice is always the one that sets me off. Always knowing precisely what to say to push the buttons that get my rage up. I stare unflinchingly as the rest of them finish wiping me down.
“Just shut up,” I reply, spitting in his direction, “Leave me alone.”
“Now, now, that’s not very nice. Whatever happened to the nice little girl we used to know? The one who was always so obedient? Following directions and trying to please everyone?”
“She’s tired of playing that game. That got her nowhere. That got her nothing and NO ONE. She was just a stupid child who thought she could prove that people should love her,” I scream, pulling at my restraints, “She had to learn that you can’t make people love you!”
“Tsk, Tsk.” he replies, “Shut her up... let’s remind her of her place.”
A slimy, cold cloth drapes over my face as the sound of running water starts. I’m flailing my head back and forth to get it off, but it’s no use. The first splash of liquid hits, and my skin prickles in shock and goosebumps. The water is freezing, and it hits my lungs like a hot poker.
“You’re worthless. No one will ever come and rescue you. You aren’t worth saving,” their voices say as the water rushes over my face again.
“How could anyone ever love anything like you? It’s why they always leave. They get close enough, and they see what we see. You’re disgusting. Dirty. Deranged.”
My heart is pounding in my ears, and my chest heaves for air. The tightness constricts around my throat, causing my mouth to produce garbled wheezing. My vision is blurring as stars twinkle under the cloth.
“You were born wrong. It’s why they couldn’t love you. They could see you were evil, different, from the moment they placed you with them. No matter what you do, no matter what you try, you will always be that unlovable thing.”
Gasping and coughing are the last things I remember as I pass out. Blackness envelops me but offers no reprieve. I don’t know how much time passes, but I know a sharp, hot blade glides along my ribs, creating small tears into my skin as one of them pounces on my stomach. The force pushes the water from my belly, contracting acidic, putrid water to burn up my esophagus out onto the bed. A still silence waits as I catch my breath, hoping somehow we’re done until the cloth goes back on my face, and it starts again.
“Worthless. Useless. Better off dead. Alone. Forever alone. Unloved. Unlovable. Evil.”
The chorus goes on as the cycle continues: icy water dumping on my face until I pass out and am woken again. It’s non-stop for hours, it seems, until suddenly a bright fluorescent light flashes in front of my eyes.
“Miss! Miss!” A voice calls to me, waving a hand slowly in front of my face.
I look around as the bedsheets are wrapped and tangled around me like a python squeezing its meal. My arms and legs are untied, and I follow the vision of the hand waving to a nurse in blue scrubs, hand on her hip, tapping her foot.
“Miss West,” she says, “we’ve talked about this. You need to breathe. In. Out. C’mon, do it with me.”
Slowly, I follow her words, inhale and exhale, inhale, exhale.
“You know, you’re here for a reason. Few get a chance to face their demons with medical help. Many people get embarrassed about depression and anxiety, Miss West, but that is no reason for you to keep suffering at night from panic attacks alone. I told you if you feel them coming on, you need to just press the button, and we can give you the medication the doctor prescribed.”
I know she’s right.
I lost last night’s battle. But that doesn’t matter. I’m here to learn how to win the war.
Victory Witherkeigh is a female Filipino author originally from Los Angeles, CA, and currently living in the Las Vegas area. Victory was a finalist for Killer Nashville’s 2020 Claymore Award, an Honoree for Cinnamon Press’s 2020 Literature Award, and Wingless Dreamer’s 2020 Overcoming Fear Short Story award. Her work has appeared in both online and print literary magazines and genre fiction publications of horror and dark fantasy. She has her print publications in a horror anthology, Supernatural Drabbles of Dread, and a literary short story in Overcoming Fear, through Macabre Ladies Publishing and Wingless Dreamers.