“Are you sure you don’t want to talk about this?” asked Dr. Meadows.
She was my shrink. I only went because these meeting are mandatory. It’s been a five days since I returned from the Kingdom of New Austin and this is my second meeting.
She sat across the table, legs crossed and two glasses of water in the middle. She was giving me an inspection from her relaxed posture, her blue eyes scanning every minute reaction I had.
“I’m sure,” I replied. “I can handle it.”
“Samantha can’t,” she retorted firmly. “You said she needs your help, I think you are unqualified.”
“I’m not,” I responded, emphasising my disagreement. “I can help her.”
“Like you could have helped Ellen?”
Those words hit me like a punch to the gut.
“…Not like that. I wa-“
“You were wrong, Ryan,” Meadows interrupted. “We can help her more than you can. Trust us. Trust me.”
I couldn’t trust her, or I didn’t want to deep down. I wanted to keep Samantha safe. I could do that at the very least.
“I don’t want to. I think s- I think she’s gone throug-“
“Ryan, this isn’t about what happened or what crimes she committed,” she tried to reassure. “Things are different now, and all you need to worry about is that you, Margaret and Samantha get help.”
As much as she tried, it wasn’t all getting through to me. I mean, Samantha still did what she did, right? It’s only natural that people would want her arrested, even after those three years.
She started again, taking my silence as an urging to continue.
“You don’t seem to think about what you really want.”
“I do,” I said. “I want to protect Samantha and I want to help.”
She pulled out her notes.
“You said last time that you didn’t really know and you only came up with the Village project to appease the NHN. You lied?”
“I-” No use. “I just want to protect Samantha.”
“That’s pretty possessive,” she said. “Are you sure this is what you want?”
“Yeah. Yeah it is.”
An awkward silence filled the seconds nothing happened.
“I think we should focus more on that behaviour of yours,” she finally said. “Maybe if I can help you let go of this need to do… To be so chivalrous all the time. We can work on that first, and maybe if you start to trust me more, we’ll sort out any other issues you have. Together.”
She had trouble finding the right words, constantly trying to be careful. I didn’t react.
“How about this; We’ll avoid talking about any possibility of Samantha being arrested for whatever crimes she had previously committed. I promise I’ll try to see that nothing happens as long as both you and Samantha make progress with your recoveries, okay?”
“I’ll try,” I said, somewhat unconvinced. “I’m not sure I need it but I’ll try at the least.”
She smiled and took a note down on her paper.
Warm. Baking warm dirt and sand. It was too hot to breathe, let alone walk along the road. Not that walking mattered at this moment. There was nowhere to go. Just road. Endless road and tantalizing mirages on the horizon.
I looked at my hands. I looked as flesh searing, drying up and peeling away as if I’m standing in the fallout of some nuclear blast, and the heat is just eating away at me. Sweat boiled off my face and stung.
“Being alone hurts, doesn’t it.”
I turned around. Nobody there. Just me and the heat. The sun. It was purely a large and oppressive object, bearing down from above, dominating the sky. Constantly assaulting me with no remorse.
“You want more. You want something to hold onto, no?”
“Who’s there?” I asked, foolishly. Impatiently.
“Just a nightmare,” it replied. “Look at your arms.”
I did. The flesh was gone, burning away to charcoal. Underneath the skin, piston replaced muscle, Wiring replacing nerves, piping replacing liquids and arteries. A purely mechanical arm. I should be shocked or concerned but I wasn’t. I’d had been through too much to be surprised already.
I felt a pang of self pity as I tested out my new arm. I should be reacting to this, not staring at it with borderline disappointment.
“What do you want?” it asked.
What a stupid question. I watched as more skin burned away, revealing more of my mechanical body underneath me.
“I’m not saying,” I replied.
“Of course,” it said, smugly. “You don’t really say what you want much, do you?”
I moved my mechanical arm. It felt normal, but painless. Not like my remaining skin as it burned away.
“Who are you?” I repeated my question.
“I’m just a Nightmare,” it said. “That’s all there is to it.”
Metal grinding. A massive mass of scrap was grinding and tearing itself as it rose before me, forming an almost human shape. An anchor here, a bit of car there. I could see all the way through it in places, gaps where metal didn’t fit correctly. It took a small bow, the sound of metal groaning in fatigue.
What was interesting, was the head was the most detailed part, heavily feminine, but still formed from scrap. Cables and wires were arranged to create stray hairs of a fringe and sheets of metal bent around and twisted to form skin. LED lights made for irises.
Not perfect, but good enough for me to tell it was a copy. I was impressed, smiling as my face still felt pain from the heat, even as a massive shadow towered over where I stood.
“Dead Metal,” the first voice said, tone changed to annoyance. “You shouldn’t join in on my work.”
Ah. Somebody is using powers over dreams on me.
As soon as I thought about it, I woke up, staring at the dark ceiling of the cold cell. I raised my arm, looking at it in the minimal light afforded to me. Flesh and blood. Not metal.
I wonder who those two were.