Outpatient Observation

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Channel's open. Where are - ↯

Their fingers flew across the keyboard, attempting to pinpoint an exact location in a landscape they'd never before seen. All the screen could offer were glimpses of bloodied footsteps smeared across crystal. Short, staggered strides that disappeared in the center of a clearing. Ending as they began, with no sign of the person who made them.

Shadows seemed to shift amongst the towering shards, however.

Something small and silver pierced a figure along a bed before it fell out of view and was replaced by a flash of red.

A figure in blue let out a sound of worry, and intervened when its purple-colored partner began to move.

Finally, a voice slipped through the cracks in the mirrors, berating a complaint from the person in blue as another piece of silver was produced. There was more red, but little to no complaint. Nothing else made it through as the mirror cracked and collapsed.

… ↯

They gave up.

The patch Cas had placed upon the figure asleep in the office chair was quickly removed and transferred instead to the doctor standing over the desk. They offered no response. They simply weren't conscious enough to complain.

The screen began to shift, and Cas resumed their observation.




♩ …what did they do to you… ♫

Shallow rifts seemed to spiderweb across the mirror, leaving the dreamer face to face with a million reflections. From every angle, every motion was echoed in the fractured looking glass. The images themselves seemed to look past the scratchy lines and dancing notes that stood before them. Looking back was a person. Not a dream.

It forced Taylor to snap their gaze away.

The body beside Cas, curled up in the desk chair and facing away, did not move. Its chest rose and fell in a slow rhythm, and under a tangle of orange hair, its eyes were closed. With any hope, it would stay this way. Just for a little while longer.

From the dark of the office, they watched the mass of musical notes slide along the screen. In every fragment of glass, the absence of inky measure lines and repeat signs was maddening. Every reflection caught the green of the doctor's shirt, but never the ensemble standing before it. Empty circles, bisected by ink, squeezed shut when their reflection of flesh looked back. They had brown eyes, just like that of the person standing over Cas. They couldn't be bothered to look up. From the computer screen, they could see the musical figure sharply back peddle.

"He's… getting worse," they began. "He still recognizes you, but he's not here."

♩ He's hiding again, ♫ was the reply from over the desktop speakers.

Beside Cas, the body began to stir. A quiet whine escaped it.

"…just hurry."

Silently, the dreamer obliged.

Their reflection began to run alongside them, dashing madly amongst the shards. What began as a hall of broken mirrors soon morphed, opening into a jagged ravine of glass. Beams of light found themselves bouncing about until the origin was uncertain and their destination meaningless.

None of it stopped Taylor, not the light nor the depth of the ravine, from casting themself off the edge.

It took every bit of strength to keep the wind from ripping away their coat as they began to plummet. Notes both short and long flew into the air and resounded with no thought to composition. It was less of a song and more of a caterwaul, punctuated by a startling crack as Taylor reached the lowest point.

Glass gave way beneath their feet until it found itself in the shape of a crater, with smaller fragments flying up into the air around them.

It was only then that the reflection began to grimace.

The body let out a piercing screech, bolting up and out of the chair only to collapse to the floor below with a heavy thud.

Something snapped.

A piece of chipped tooth tumbled to the ground as the body arched and began to flail.

Its arms and legs began to pound the ground and fly upward as though it were beating up a violent assailant - Cas could barely manage to grab its hand before a swift kick landed and knocked the breath from them.

It sent them flying as they wheezed for air.

Through the violence, the strands of orange that had previously covered the face found themselves moved about to reveal the body's eyes. They remained closed, even as the scream became scratchier and intermittent. The body didn't wake. It couldn't wake.

"…I don't want to finish this painting…"

The voice came from beyond the glass.

♩ Cas - Castion can you hear that!? ♫

Whatever Cas had said was lost to the screaming. The sound of footsteps, of hurried chattering and panic, began to echo in the distance like a war drum. It blended with the sounds of the body screaming like a hurried heartbeat threatening to go into arrhythmia.

Through the ache in their side and the fear of a cracked rib, they dragged themselves to their feet and raced to the door. With little concern with ensuring success, they yanked the uplink cord on their way out.

The cord itself came loose, leaving the computer and the patch as they were.

As Cas left, only the screen of the computer lit the room. The blue 'input lost' screen remained the only sign it had been touched.

"…"

The lack of a response for Cas had left Taylor in the dark.

But they were only aware of one painting that scared Sal in such a way, and the realization told them exactly where he was.

Towering glass walls began to shift, their faint grey hues twisting into that of a blue view. Swirls of lighter tones mixed in the skyline and did their best to blink away their wide-eyed gaze. The blinding sun did nothing to hide the crescent of white that widened at the dreamer's appearance.

They finally moved from the desk to the thrashing man on the floor. By now, he'd cracked a few nails and left blood smeared along the office floor. The screaming continued but had since died down as Sal wore out their voice.

"…help me…"

When the wavering grasses began grasping at their legs, the dreamer quickly crushed them beneath their feet. The grasses resisted before something like bone began to bow and break. Sinew and pigment clung to them as they ran through the fields, painting inky black lines a vibrant green.

For every hand that reached out, that curled around their ankles and attempted to bring them to the ground, they destroyed another. Littered behind them were puddles of paint and piles of bleached wood, a massacre that they cared little for. It was their nightmare - who cared if they left it a broken mess. Who cared if they ripped the paint from the sky and broke the stalks of every piece of grass which -

They dropped to their knees beside the body, even as it threw a barrage of kicks and punches. What was once a howl had died down to a whimper. There's only so much a sleeping man can do.

But he had never been this violent before.

Never once had it gotten this bad. Even as the heavy steps outside ceased, there was an anxiety that couldn't be discarded. A hollow, clawing feeling in the pit of the dreamer's stomach.

They couldn't see him. They couldn't hear anything over the pounding sound of their own heart.

He grabbed ahold of the man's shoulder, even as he screamed out their name in the nightmare. Just as they had done so many times before.

♩ - Salem! ♫

For a breath of a moment, he stilled. Frozen mid-motion, his eyes shot open as he gasped like a drowned man.

And he screamed.

He screamed with a voice that had long since worn itself out, burying his face into his friend's shoulder and letting the tears fall without care or concern. His remaining nails, like talons, sunk into Taylor's arms.

"Hey - it's okay - Salem -"

"That stupid - stupid fucking painting-" he cried out -

"- again?"

"How do you deal with that stupid thing?!"

They couldn't think of anything to say. Taking one last look at the path of acrylic carnage they left in their wake, they closed their eyes and allowed themselves to be grounded in the waking world once again.

They stayed there, holding Salem until the fear came to pass. Letting him scream and cry until catharsis had finally taken hold. They wondered to themselves, however, as the door to the office clicked and creaked open.

As Castion stood at the threshold with faceless security behind them, Taylor wondered if this would be the last time they could be here to see Salem wake up.


Somewhere in that field of grasping hands, stood a fellow too blurred to detail. But as he ripped a piece from the canvas, he let a self-satisfied smirk creep across his face.

I told you, he began. You've never been here before.

It wasn't until he disappeared that a cascade of purple flowers began to bloom amongst the green.

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