“Talk to me.”
It wasn't anything new. Arms folded in, gripping his elbows tightly, he lay rigid on the bed. The woman next to him wore her familiar concern about her visage. He knew it wasn't real. He knew she put that face on like she put on her makeup, to have others believing something false. Displeasing rumors might start if she ever dropped the act, especially when they were in public. That's when she hammed it up the most, so her friends would believe her lies as well.
The chill of his words frosted his lips as they passed. Could she see their intent? He wondered if he could ever get up the courage to tell her to her face and end this farce, finally closing the curtain on this act. Yet, there was something violent in those azure eyes of hers. Something that caused him to balk and shift uneasily in the bed. The sheets twisted up beneath them ever so slightly, and the woman shook her head before turning away. His arms unfolded, and he slowly drifted off.
Blinding red flashes of light shone through his shut eyelids. He struggled to open his eyes, but found them unwilling. The woman was on the phone in the next room.
“I'm not certain, mom. It started last week. Now...” she croaked, “now I barely recognize him. He looks at me like I'm some sort of monster.”
The man forced his eyes open. He felt the pressure rising in the side of his neck again. That pulsating feeling never truly went away, only subsided slightly on occasion like a tide. He felt his legs move without warning, and suddenly he was standing. It took every ounce of effort to stop from charging into the other room. He knew he had been betrayed, but it would do no good to tip his hand now. Instead, he marred his face with a false smile. Two can play this little game of deception.
“Sweetheart?” he said, painfully. “Is breakfast ready? I have an early meeting I need to get to.”
“It will be in a moment,” came the reply, oozing with insincerity. “Take a shower and get dressed, and I'll have it waiting for you.”
Just going through the motions of daily life were becoming nearly unbearable. Finally, after shaving and showering and getting dressed and eating breakfast, he was ready to leave the hyena's den. A kiss on the cheek to keep her in the dark, and he was out the door. Sunlight beat down from above, its oppressive light made him shield his eyes as he started the car and maneuvered it down the road. He caught glimpses of people as he passed them. They all looked at him, like they do every day. Their eyes judge his necktie and his hair and the color of his Mercedes. It took him quite a while to notice the hate behind those eyes, the disdain they all held for him. They all hid it so well, just like the jackal he left in the house.
He left the car and locked the door, tapping the button the remote twice to make sure. He started down the path trod by yesterday's ghost. Sometimes he can see the outlines of that specter. It mocks him like all the rest, reminding him of his repetitious life with its uncanny motions. The pictures in his wallet also tease him mercilessly. Their smiles are twisted and cruel, and he often hears them calling him a coward and a failure.
His head snapped up. The meeting was droning on, and he could scarcely remember entering the room. It was just another analysts' meeting, but he knew they were all glancing secretly at him. The conference table focused their disdain to a single point, aiming directly at the man's chest. He watched them move in slow motion, whispering and staring at him. They buzzed harshly, plotting openly. The man stood and excused himself for the restroom. He moved swiftly, past caricatures peering over cubicles. The door slammed back as he entered. He leaned over the sink and stared down into the basin, gasping for air. Suddenly, the mirror in front of him began to vibrate violently, as if trying to free itself from the wall. He looked up and saw the devil reversed.
. . .
They found him soon after, slumped against the wall. A crack in the mirror dripped crimson on the porcelain beneath, splashing into a widening pool. The men in dark blue lifted him onto the stretcher and wheeled him through the open door. The sun trickled through the foreign trees as they made their way to the ambulance. He remembers seeing a figure clad in white, who he calls the high priestess. He tells me, in his moments of lucidity, how she saved him. Yet, when the fear returns, he tells me how his memory of her warps and tightens, squeezing his mind. He tells me then that he has nowhere he can hide.
This is the story, as he tells me. I hope it will bring us closer to understanding the nature of the disease, for few other illnesses are as cruel; destroying a man's sanity and leaving him in constant fear. Yet, when I ask him how he is feeling, he always says the same thing.