“There really isn’t any point to this. You already think I’m crazy. By trying to tell you I’m not, you’ll only sink further into your belief that I’m delusional.”
Hector glanced up from his clipboard, his brown Ruki face passively confident, radiating unbiased compassion. What his patient had said was uncomfortably true, however; the files in his clipboard documenting Mr Sound’s mental illnesses testified to that. “I assure you, I’m fully prepared to listen to your side of the story.”
“To listen, sure, but not to believe.”
Hector was silent as he looked at the blue Lutari lying on the couch opposite him, staring tensely at the plain white ceiling above. His paws were constantly active: clicking his nails together, tracing mysterious patterns on the lounge, or pulling and twisting at the strands of cotton where there was a small tear in the red fabric.
“You seem to be an intelligent man, Mr Sound. Why don’t, just for this half hour, we pretend I believe you?”
“What difference will it make?” the Lutari moaned. “All you’ll do is prescribe some goodness-knows-what and send me back to the nuthouse.”
Hector kept his face neutral while he counted to five. He always counted between sentences when he was seeing a patient; the silence encouraged his companion to speak if he had more to say, and gave both of them a chance to think. When the five seconds were up, he continued on his previous course. “I’m here to help you, Mr Sound.”
The Lutari’s face twisted slightly with uncomfortable memories. “Doesn’t change the fact that you’ll still think I’m crazy. All you doctor people do. I’m not crazy.”
One, two, three, four, five. “Why do they think you’re crazy, Mr Sound?”
“Because It sounds crazy. They think It doesn’t exist.” A ghost of an ironic smile fluttered over the Lutari’s face. “I didn’t believe It existed at first, either. Funny how we hide from the unknown, isn’t it, Doc? You’re all so quick to throw someone into an asylum, but so slow to even consider checking if they might actually be telling the truth.”
One, two, three, four, five.
“Alright, Mr Sound. I’m listening. Why don’t you tell me exactly what It is, and how you discovered it.”
Mr Sound sighed and stared at the ceiling, his claws clicking together anxiously. “I don’t know where to start. I can’t even remember when it began. A year ago, maybe? My brother had come back from overseas just in time for our family Christmas dinner. He pulled me aside to talk to me... something about being followed, being watched. Something about swamps and dirty water and... I don’t know anymore. I just don’t. I wish I could remember everything he said to me, but he was speaking so fast. Maybe he said something about a creature, maybe he didn’t. We were called to dinner before I could get any sense out of him, and I didn’t get a chance to talk to him until the next morning, but by then it was too late.”
There was silence while Hector tapped the end of his pen against his teeth. “Your brother ran away, didn’t he?”
Mr Sound shot a dirty look at Hector. “That’s the official story, yeah, and if you believe it you’re stupider than I thought.”
One, two, three-
“His bed was empty in the morning,” Mr Sound said, interrupting Hector’s mental count. “There was just water... everywhere. Muddy water. It smelt like algae and... seaweed and... dead things.”
More silence. The Lutari lay still as stone, watching the white of the ceiling, fingers playing tensely with the buttons of his coat.
“What happened next, Mr Sound?”
“It started following me.” Silence. “You don’t believe me, do you?”
“I haven’t heard all of the story yet, have I?” Hector kept his tone calm, but he’d already filled most of a sheet with notes.
“You think I’m just delusional.” Mr Sound’s voice had become tight, his prominent Adam’s apple bobbing fiercely as he swallowed. “I’m not. You try lying awake at night, listening to it drip, smelling it, hearing its breath, and then you try telling me I’m crazy.”
Hector pushed his glasses farther up his nose and flipped to a new, empty page. He didn’t even have to count this time, because the Lutari started talking immediately.
“It followed me home. I knew it because there were puddles of water everywhere, sometimes dripping down the wall, seeping out of corners, everywhere. At night I could hear the drips as it just stood there. Just standing there, all night, in my room, watching me, dripping on the floor. No matter how thoroughly I mopped the water up, it was always back again the next morning, in different rooms, fetid, slimy water, coating my floor, my furniture, everywhere.”
His voice was starting to break by now, so he paused to take a slow breath. When he’d regained control he started speaking again, in a slower voice. “Do you know what I think, Doc?” When Hector stayed silent, he continued. “I think it enjoys watching me, the same way it enjoyed watching my brother, before...” Silence. “It likes watching its food. It finds it exciting to see us cower in fear, to watch us as we defeat each other with our doubt. That’s what it is, isn’t it? Doubt.”
Mr Sound rolled his head to the side so he could look directly at Hector, his icy blue eyes desperate. “They doubted me too much to even consider searching my house for It. They just brought me here. I didn’t mind, because I thought, well, at least I’ll be away from It. But I was wrong. I don’t know how, but It followed me here. It watches me at night, just watching, and dripping, watching me all the time, when it’s too dark for me to see, and I’m too scared to sleep, because if I sleep, I feel vulnerable to It.”
Silence. One, two, three, four, five.
“What does It look like, Mr Sound?”
The Lutari twisted uncomfortably. “I told you, I don’t know. It only ever comes out when it’s too dark to see it. Big. And it smells vile, too. I can hear it breathing if I listen hard enough. It sounds wet and phlegmy. And it drips water everywhere. It follows me. When I go for my meals, when I go outside, wherever I go, it’s there, hiding where no one will think to look. I can feel its eyes on me.” Pause. “It followed me here, too. It’s waiting for me to leave.”
“Well.” Mr Sound’s mouth twitched slightly in an imitation of a smile. “There. “I’ve done what you asked. I’ve told you everything. You still don’t believe me?” Silence. “No, I never expected you would. I hoped, but I didn’t expect. I’ve got just one question to ask you- you’re replacing Dr Jacobs, right? Yeah. He was a nice guy. I think he was even starting to believe what I was saying towards the end. Where is he now? How come he left?”
Hector kept his face neutral. “Doctor Jacobs relocated to Terror Mountain. He might be back in a few weeks, or he might decide to stay there.”
Mr Sound’s face twitched. “Yeah, that’s what they told you. They’re just covering, though.”
One, two, three, four, five.
“Mr Sound, what do you mean by ‘covering’? Do you feel the staff are keeping secrets from you?”
“They’re keeping secrets from everyone, mate. They’re covering themselves in case he comes back, and in case he doesn’t. Did they give you his new address? Or what about a neomail, in case you need to contact him about one of his old patients?”
Hector was silent. This time it was slightly harder to keep his face clear.
Mr Sound’s paw went back to tracing patterns on his couch. “I suppose our time’s up for today, huh?”
Hector glanced at his watch. “Yes, it is. I’ll see you next week, Mr Sound, and we can talk some more.”
A pained smile hovered over the Lutari’s face. “Maybe. Hopefully.” He rolled off the lounge and strode slowly towards the door. Hector pressed a button beside it, and they waited in silence until the asylum’s wardens arrived to take Mr Sound back to his room.
As they led the Lutari away, Hector felt his stomach flip uncomfortably. “Mr Sound...”
The Lutari turned slowly.
“We...” Hector wet his lips. “We’ll discuss this more next time, and... I’ll do some research... maybe we’ll be able to find a resolution to your problem. Okay?”
Mr Sound’s ice blue eyes were impenetrable as his gaze locked with the therapist’s. Very slowly, he nodded just once, and turned back to the hallway and the confused wardens. Hector watched him go until he turned the corner, and then went back into his office and locked the door.
Because he’d seen.
As the Lutari had been led away, he’d seen it, dripped over the tiled floor, just drops in some places, puddles in others. Water. Foul, murky water.