We were here in the deepest recesses of your mind when you thought you were alone. We kept you company in the silent emptiness between dreams and reality.
I think you're starting to remember now. But the question is, is it a good thing? Maybe you don't want to remember....the things we did to you. We drove you over the edge time after time, only to bring you back just so you could suffer more.
But that is what we needed, to keep on going. Would you blame the spider for taking the fly and drinking it dry?
If you were the fly, I'm sure you might. But this is the natural order of things, my dear. Take what you need before it is gone. Try and be merciful, but do not starve yourself when you can always be full.
“Its okay,” Thorneburg whispered in Penelope's ear as the needle went in.
The nurse looked away as she administered the injection, less out of squeamishness than a desire not to connect with the frightened girl. “Its just a spider bite. Big one got in here; I killed it, but it found you first.” He chuckled softly.
She said nothing, wincing at the invasion, at the theft of what was hers.
Above them, bluish fluorescence which for now did not blink, and around them, walls white and devoid of decoration, a stark reminder of where Penelope really was.
The colorful, enigmatic meadow was gone, and there would be no going back to it, at least not if she intended to avoid reliving that horrible nightmare.
Or was it a memory? A twisted memory of something that actually happened, to me? To someone else? Jesus, make this stop.
“Just a little bite. It wasn't poisonous. It won't hurt you.”
Something about Thorneburg made one want to freeze in place and never move again. He was a big man, stocky, with a ruddy complexion, thick black hair graying at the temples, a neatly trimmed mustache and beard, and stern bottle-green eyes that made you feel you were in trouble even if you hadn't done anything bad.
He had about him the air of a domineering father, of someone who didn't really belong in this place and time.
But he was charming, especially to visitors and fellow staff members. Penelope had seen him switch it on and off, amazed at how different he seemed, as if two personalities were inhabiting the same body.
Maybe that's true.
His grip on Penelope's shoulder was light but unmistakably possessive.
But she had to move, had to get out of his web, out of Sunnygrove. Patients had tried to escape before and as far as she knew, none had succeeded.
Maybe he really was a giant spider, feasting on her, carrying a disease, an elixir of foam and fever that would make her wish for death even more than she already did.
A treatment given only in the confines of his sound proof office where birds had bashed against the window, again and again, as if knowing some poor creature was being terrorized, as if knowing someone wanted out. Or perhaps because they were playing host to the same demons the doctors were.
She tried to look down, but Thorneburg's arm blocked her view. She squirmed.
“Shhh..shh. Almost over.”
The pain got worse. She could see the wings of prey taken before, transparent wings like dirty stained glass windows, beautiful once, buzzing and straining against bonds too firm to break, and all around it the eight splayed legs, the swollen gray abdomen gorging on hope.
“No.” She jumped, causing another surge of stabbing pain.
“Why don't you be still? Or the needle will break off in you and that will really hurt. And then it'll get infected.” His agreeable tone was still there, but something swathed it, a subtle, nasty edge of eagerness and veiled intentions. He knew what she was afraid of, what she was feeling. It didn't make sense, but he did.
You'll never know what its like, doctor.
You'd be surprised, Penelope. Just give me a chance. I'm your friend here, and I'll do everything I possibly can to help you recover. You're not out of the woods yet, but you're better off than you were, hmm?
These scars are nothing compared to what's on the inside.
I understand that.
As the smooth lake of amnesia began to grow choppy with surfacing memory, Penelope snapped.
“Get your hands off me, you god damned hack!” The words flew out of her with such force and vehemence that both doctor and nurse drew back in alarm. Penelope hadn't spoken much since ending up here, and what she did say was careful, polite. They had never heard her curse or even give anyone so much as a glare. This meek, wasted girl was always somewhere else, but now, she was here, suddenly grounded and extremely angry.
Penelope bucked, hand shooting out to pry the now withdrawn needle from the nurse's grip, and sent it flying into the wall. The nurse gaped at her, stricken with fear of her own. If only she'd seen what this man had done. If only she'd seen how deep the scars went.
Thorneburg recovered quickly from his shock and grabbed her arm, fingernails digging in cruelly. She took advantage of the nurse's paralyzed stupor to score a solid punch into the shrink's throat. A strangled, wet moan escaped him, and she pulled free as she had not been able to do in the nightmare. Then she punched him again, in the jaw.
His controlling eyes, now decidedly uncontrolled, glazed with pain but managed to focus on her. Beneath the pain was something peculiar. Triumph. Whatever the web had been built for, it had caught what it wanted now.
The nurse finally snapped out of it. She was not much bigger than Penelope, petite and slender, but she was certainly stronger and in a move either trained or improvised, knocked Penelope's feet out from under her, at the same time grabbing her wrists and shouting for orderlies.
Thorneburg was retching, clutching his throat with both hands, back bumping against the wall as he retreated, and sweet Penelope was surprised to find something a little less than sweet inside her, which took joy in hearing this man suffer. The solid smack of her fist against his plump throat was sort of like squishing the spider. She didn't like it, but at the same time she did.
Three orderlies appeared in the doorway, leaped, held her down. She had no chance to even forestall them. Another syringe, another venom-filled fang, another too-real phantasm most likely coming.
The last thing she saw was the nurse's face, turned towards Thorneburg and lit with something that had not been there before: recognition.
Maybe she too had caught a glimpse of the monster whose shape could be made out only in that split second before the lights went off, as you descended and rose from the deepest caverns of sleep.
The sedative slid sluggishly through her veins, bringing with it a chill unlike any she had ever known, and the tickling of so many spiders skittering across unprotected flesh and biting, fangs filled with anti-freeze.
This isn't real. Dream logic. Madness.
And another voice insisted, progress.