Nina disgusts me. I don’t tell her this though; it would crush her. She was beautiful: creamy smooth skin, ocean blue eyes, raven black hair, and a body to die for–a real hourglass figure.

But now every imperfection of hers is somehow magnified. The tiny divot in the center of her nose, which I found so cute before, is like a crater on the moon. Her eyes aren’t symmetrical either; one is actually quite bigger than the other. Her breasts are sagging, not at all upturned like they used to be. And there’s a thick layer of fat overflowing her hips that I never noticed till now, making her body more pear shaped than anything.

I am nothing to look at. Far from it. I’m a white-haired, gangly, ugly thing, so I am the last person in the world to criticize anything, but for some reason this is what I see when I look at her. When I look at everything, in fact.

The redheaded nurse is a freckled nightmare; the hospital bed sheets have a dozen disgusting stains on them, though Nina swears they’re perfectly clean; the overhead lights buzz and flicker terribly, which nobody seems to notice but me; and the yellow paint on the walls isn’t finished properly, enormous spots are missed down by the baseboards leaving the white drywall to shine through. It’s all so hideous I can barely stand it.

The procedure hasn’t worked as far as I can tell: I can’t do calculations any faster, my memory seems the same, and I am no closer to solving the same theories I was baffled with before. All that’s changed is I’ve somehow become hypersensitive to my surroundings, every little fault pops out as though it were under a microscope.

The thought has painfully crossed my mind maybe a dozen times now that something may have gone wrong. Did the monkeys’ heads hurt this much when I performed the procedure on them? They were rather ornery after, but was it this bad? And what about this propensity for seeing nothing but faults? Is that normal or a sign the formula is incompatible with the human brain?

I desperately want to get back to the lab. Every minuscule change taking place in my brain is of the utmost importance to track and record for posterity. But here I lie in frustration on this lumpy hospital bed, bored to tears and playing a memory card game on my iPad because I promised Nina I would stay till the doctors cleared me.

Something catches my eye. I look over the iPad at my bare feet and see two thin, curved sticks poking out from the top of my right foot, like my big toe grew antennas. I lie the tablet down on my chest and stare closer. They’re moving I notice, twitching in fact. I shift my foot a little and a huge wasp’s head connected to the antennas peaks out from behind my big toe. He’s the size of my foot. I can see his striped black and yellow abdomen sticking out from my behind heel. The sharp ends of his legs scrape across the soft skin of my foot’s arch, sending a shiver rippling through me. Frozen in shock, I stare at the thing.

Then I let out a shriek and a mad buzzing fills the air. He springs up and hovers over my stomach. He’s a monster, just over a foot tall and six inches wide. A long black stinger descends from the bottom of his swelled abdomen and drips amber fluid onto the bedspread.

He flies closer to my face, and I react and swat at him with my iPad. Catching him dead on, the screen shatters and his body blasts into the wall with a sticky, wet splat. Then he slides to the floor, leaving a thin red trail as he goes.

He angrily buzzes and rattles about beneath my bed. Not yet dead, but dying.

I scream for the nurse. My pulse thunders in my chest and I break out in a cold sweat. My God, I think, his mandibles were big enough to lop off my toe with a single bite. How is that possible?

Red bursts in, her wide eyes flare about. Her freckled face is a measles outbreak.

“What’s the matter?” she demands.

“Goddammit, there!” I say while pointing to the floor, completely amazed she hasn’t seen what’s right at her feet.

“What?” she says, staring at the ground and raising her hands in confusion. “I don’t see it. What is it?”

“You dumb ginger,” I say and roll to the side of the bed, so I can point directly at the thing. “There!”

It’s dead now. Curled up into a ball by the poorly painted cream baseboards.

“A giant wasp!” I exclaim. “Don’t you see it!?”

“Oh, of course.” She says. “We’ll take care of it right away.” And with that, she bustles out of the room.

My head has swelled during this insanity and it feels like my skull will split open from the pressure. The room swims a little and I lie back on my bed, breathing heavily.

Nuclear medicine, I think. Somehow that wasp got into the hospital’s nuclear imaging system, was infused with gamma rays, and grew gargantuan in the process. It’s so damn ridiculous when I think about it–it’s like something out of a comic book–but that’s the only explanation I can think of.

My doctor sweeps in through the door. The hairs of his toupee are blond push-broom bristles that are combed flat to one side, a pimple on his cheek has grown into the category of a cyst, one eye is a darker color than the other, and on and on the minutiae of his faults go.

“Grant,” he says. “How are you feeling?” He takes his pen light from the pocket of his terribly wrinkled doctor’s coat and shines it in my eyes.

“Goddammit,” I say, brushing his hands from my face. “Don’t you see it?” Again, I point at the thing.

He doesn’t follow my finger.

“Grant,” he says. “What year is it?”

And then I go a little ape.

“There!” I shout. “There you ignoramus!”

Finally, he follows my finger to the floor, but not a bit of surprise crosses his face.

All of a sudden, I feel water running in my head and a rush of darkness swallows me.

Blood drips from the razor-thin line I cut across my forehead. I dab at the incision, turning the toilet paper a deep red Rorschach.

My bruised over eyes are blue baboon lips. I can barely see between the slits. Unable to stand my visage, I turn from the bathroom mirror.

Little vignettes of the procedure play in my mind. The cold metal slab touching my back. The robotic arm with a silver scalpel slicing open my brow. The circular saw buzzing through my forehead. A sudden gush of hot fluid filling my skull as my formula was pumped in.

I reasoned that if man can use drugs to increase muscle mass, bone marrow, white blood cells, and lung capacity; thereby, increasing his strength and endurance, then cannot a drug be invented to grow the neural pathways of the brain and increase intelligence? Would not a brain with more neural pathways think faster, better, and remember more than one with less?

The monkeys I experimented on certainly showed that to be true. They went from drooling morons that eat their own feces to quiet, contemplative creatures that signed for food.

It was a breakthrough, one I desperately sought as I’d been suffering for far too long in the shadows of obscurity. I figured that with one more courageous push I could show the world that the same could be done for the human mind. It would be a quantum leap forward for mankind and would smash my name into history with such force that all would remember me long after I was gone.

I grip the sides of the white porcelain sink and watch the water stream from the tap and spiral noisily into the drain.

Have I gone mad? I wonder. That wasp thing was real, saw it with my own eyes, killed it with my own hands.

But then why can no one else see it? Not even Nina.

“How is everything going in there Mr. Hopsinger?” The nurse shouts through the bathroom door, knocking my train of thoughts off its clattering tracks.

“Give me a second!” I say.

The door latch clicks open and her measly face pokes in.

“Everything OK, Mr. Hopsinger?” she asks. Her blue scrubs have faded with the million washes they’ve been through, yet a bright green stain is on her shoulder. Couldn’t she see that when she put that on? If that were me, I would have thrown it away and worn something else. It’s awful to look at, like a hunk of booger melted on her shoulder. Deplorable.

“I’m fine!” I hiss.

I see Nina looking in over her shoulder. Her face is pinched with worry.

“I’m fine,” I say to the both of them. “Really, I’m fine.”

The nurse pushes the door open and bright light washes into the room, searing my eyes, making me squint.

“I haven’t finished,” I protest, but the floor shifts beneath my feet and I have to grab the walls for support. The nurse and Nina spring to my side and help me into the bed.

“When can I leave?” I say after Nina pulls the covers up to my neck, like I’m a child being tucked in for the night. “I must get back to my lab. It’s been two days already and that’s two days worth of valuable data I’ve already lost.”

“We haven’t got the test results from the spinal tap,” the nurse replies.

“It’s not meningitis you fools!” I shout. “It’s encephalization, purposeful encephalization.”

That registers nothing but a blank expression on her ugly face.

I turn to Nina and squeeze her hand pleadingly. “Please Nina let me go. There is nothing they can do for me. They don’t have the knowledge or the equipment. Let me go back to the lab. Please?”

“Grant,” she says and squeezes my hand back warmly. “Please stay Grant.”

More than anything in this world I love this woman and my resolve to leave this place melts at her touch.

“OK,” I sigh. “I’ll stay and suffer these fools for you.”

An unprofessional flash of fury crosses the nurse’s face, every freckle briefly flickers red. She didn’t like being called a fool, not one bit.

“Look hun,” I say to her. “Isn’t there a bed pan that needs changing somewhere?”

“Yes of course,” she says and leaves, closing the door to my room with a gentle slam.

“Grant!” Nina says sharply. “Do you have to be so cruel? She’s just trying to help.”

The rims of Nina’s eyes swell and redden. Wet, salty globules begin to trundle down her face. I can barely look her.

“Dammit Nina! This is nothing to cry over. How do you think Jonas Salk invented a vaccination for polio? He had to use it on himself because no one would volunteer to be a test subject. If he hadn’t, we’d be all crawling around with atrophied legs dragging behind us. Testing monkey brains can only take you so far. Can’t you see that? Can’t you understand that?”

I’ve worked myself up into a hell of a fervor. My whole body tingles and my breath comes in ragged gasps.

“No,” Nina says. “I don’t understand how you can risk your life for this.”

“That’s because you have no ambition! You have no drive! You don’t know what it’s like to be consumed by something, to feel something like this burning in your veins. To move forward into greatness, there must be sacrifices. My goal is no less than eliminating the ignorance of mankind. Everything else takes a back seat to that, including my safety.”

I have to stop because the room is spinning again and my breath is falling short. I lie back and look at my chest, rapidly swelling and deflating. I’m tired now. My eyes begin to droop uncontrollably and I drift off to the sound of her sobbing.

I welcome the night. It washes the faults away. When I look at the ceiling, I don’t see uneven, asymmetrical tiles with brackish stains–I just see a dark ceiling. And the walls aren’t covered with filth and painted poorly; they’re just dark walls.

Nina is right. Something has changed inside me. When I think of how I was before this, I remember being nicer, more even-tempered, happier too. Perhaps, the new pathways growing in my frontal lobe have affected my personality. I recall my studies about how lobotomy patients became listless and apathetic after their pathways were severed. What I’ve done is the very reverse of a lobotomy, so perhaps it’s pushed my personality in the other direction. Instead of listless, I’ve become active, animated, irritable.

A shadow splashes through the pool of moonlight on the wall, startling me. A bat, I think. But no, a bat couldn’t disturb that much light–something larger.

The window creaks at the foot of the bed and my body goes rigid with fright. I see two grey hands beneath the sill, slowly lifting it up.

I must be asleep and dreaming because we’re ten stories up, but the pounding in my head and heart tell me I’m awake and that this is real.

The window slides upwards and frigid night air pours through, quickly filling the room. Goosebumps ripple on my skin and a cold, icy lump sticks in my throat.

A head appears in the opening. Two milk-white eyes regard me from across the room. I can feel them, running over every inch of my body. A long arm reaches through the window and grabs the radiator below the sill. Whatever it is, it’s climbing in.

My body roils in revolt, tries to get free, yet the restraints hold me still.

He climbs in, stands at the foot of my bed, and smiles. His two eyes are clear moons and his teeth are shrunken corn kernels. He’s wearing a trench coat so rotted and frayed it’s like a lace cape. Open at the middle, I can see his thin, mummylike form beneath the coat. His skin is grey and is stretched so tight across his body that every bone, rib, and joint is visible. Even from this distance I can smell him: stale, wet earth; the smell of compost.

He smiles impossibly wide and my whole being runs cold.

“Nurse!” I scream. “Nurse! Help me! Nina! Somebody!”

I shriek and shriek, but not a soul comes.

He slinks up to the side of the bed and leans in. His breath is like gasoline fumes and my eyes water. He reaches out and taps my forehead with one of his long, pointed fingers.

My skull is so tender the tapping sends fireworks sizzling across my vision. I thrash my head from side to side to get away from his vicious claw.

He pulls his hand back and points to his huge milky eye. He’s trying to convey something, I realize, but I haven’t a goddamn clue what it is.

A loud click of the lock makes him snap his head towards the door. Light spills into the room as the nurse pokes her head in; annoyance is plain on her ugly face.

He slinks along the walls in the shadows, stops near the window, and turns to give me one last look.

Hate is in those eyes, pure burning malevolence.

Then with a breath he’s gone.

I was screeching and kicking up such a mad fit that the nurse fired me full of tranquilizers. Then she treated the rope burns on my wrists and ankles that I got from twisting in the restraints, cinched them back up, and left.

The drugs have made my mind and heart run still, and I can think clearly without everything boiling over in my mind. With a kind of drug-induced clinical detachment, I begin to analyze myself.

I fully realize that it’s well within the realms of possibility that I could be quite mad. If I was back in my practice and listening to a patient describe the things I’ve seen and thought, I’d have the DSM-5 in hand and I’d be checking off all the tickboxes in the psychosis table: hallucinations (check), thought disorders (check), poor social interactions (check), personality changes (check).

But, the left half of my brain interjects, the fact that I can consider these things, think them through rationally like this negates a diagnosis of madness. Remember the axiom: only a madman thinks he’s sane and only a sane man would consider he’s mad. I still have my wits and I can still step back from my situation and examine myself soberly, ergo I’m not mad.

The creatures though, the right side of my brain says, the sounds and the smells of them say that I am. In fact, they scream it.

Tears are running down my cheeks and into the pillow, turning it into a soggy, cold sack beneath my head. My mind may be detached, but my body is being torn apart by the emotions of this argument.

I suck in the icy liquid in my nose and swallow it with a gulp. I give myself a solid shake and flex my wrists against the restraints. I must continue. Everything depends on it.

If I am truly mad, the right half of my brain continues, then it is the formula that’s caused this. It could be triggering an excess of dopaminergic signaling, common in schizophrenia, and that’s why I’m seeing these full-on, whizz-bang delusions. If that is the case, then it could be easily treated with drugs. I, in fact, could treat myself; probably much better than these idiots here.

But passing these things off as simple delusions just doesn’t feel right, the left side of my mind says. I’ve seen these things. Smelt them. Felt them on my head and feet, so it’s hard to simply dismiss them. They seem as real as anything.

But so says all madmen about their hallucinations, my right counters.

Yet, the left continues, what madmen can think so rationally, so clearly? Patients with delusions usually accept them unquestioningly–and I am questioning!

I stop.

I’ve become confused by the argument rocketing back and forth in my head. I understand what the right side is saying, that these hallucinations are caused by a chemical imbalance, but what is my left saying? Is it saying that I am well within my faculties? That I’m not mad? If that is the case, and my left is correct, then just what the hell was that wasp and that creature? They’d have to be real if my left brain were to be believed, and I cannot, under any circumstance, accept that those things are real. Therefore, the truth of my mind’s state is plain before me. I am insane.

A soft scraping at the window draws my attention. Wasps, in the hundreds, are pressed up against the glass, a seething mass of dripping stingers, legs, abdomens, and antennas.

As far as hallucinations goes, that’s a pretty damn good one. Every one of those giant wasps are in vivid detail. There’s even subtle variations between them, lending a macabre realism to them. One has a broken mandible, another is missing a leg. Each is covered with distinctive hairs that stick out of all over their bodies.

I’ve got to get the hell out of here, I realize. The hospital can’t help me with this. They don’t understand what’s happening. Only I and the equipment and the drugs back at the lab can help me, can treat me without damaging this experiment.

“Nurse,” I shout, but not too frantically. I don’t want to seem out of control and dangerous. Strangely, my cry sends the wasps into a tizzy and they feverishly boil against the window. A few of them try to bite their way through and their mandibles squeak terribly as they slide across the glass.

“Nurse please. I need a little help.” I shout as calmly as I can.

Spiderweb cracks splay through the window. Though I know those creatures aren’t real and this isn’t actually happening, my skin still crawls at the site of them and my heart pounds in abject terror.


Relief fills me when I hear the lock click. The door swings open and the hallway light fills the room. The nurse steps in.

Her presence doesn’t deter the wasps in the slightest. They continue to angrily buzz and bash against the glass.

“Yes?” She asks, sounding rather put out.

I can barely stomach looking in her horrid face, but I force myself to; and force myself to smile too.

“My wrists are burning,” I say into her sea of red blotches. “May I please have more salve?” I motion my head towards the bedside table where it’s kept.

She harrumphs and disdain pulls her face into a grotesque distortion, but–ever the professional–she bends over and pulls the drawer open.

I lie there as calmly as I can, watching the undulating orgy on the window. She slowly twists the salve’s cap open; she’s not in too much of a hurry.

As soon as she unbuckles the latch on my right wrist I sock her in the jaw, a straight uppercut into her mouth. She screeches in surprise and stumbles back against the wall, clutching at her split and swelling lip.

Quickly, I unbuckle my other hand and then my feet. I leap from the bed and shove her out of the way.

Right then, the window shatters and the wasps come tumbling in. A bristling, buzzing pile of them collects at the foot of the radiator.

I’m through the door and starting to close it behind me when the nurse’s scream stops me. It’s not a scream for help, she’s screaming in pain.

I look back and a cold shiver through me. They’re swarming her. A dozen or so are on her chest, arms, and legs, spearing their two-inch stingers into her flesh. Blood blooms on her blue scrubs. One lands on her face and with a single bit its mandibles shear open her cheek. Blood gushes from the wound.

I slam the door on her horrific shrieks and lock it behind me.

For a moment, she beats on it to be let free, but then falls silent. The terror of the last few seconds catches up to me and all my breath seems to leave my chest. The long, cold hospital hallway rolls about like a ship’s deck in a storm and my legs buckle. I slide to the floor with a thump.

They’re real, I think. The thought sends a shockwave through me. I’m not mad. These things, these creatures are actually real. How is this possible?

It’s not possible, I answer myself coldly. The whole thing is insane. You’re insane.

But her blood, her fear-filled eyes say it is possible. Her lips scream it.

It occurs to me that the nurse couldn’t see what was killing her. She stood frozen in shock, wide-eyed with terror, looking about in utter confusion as the wasps tore her apart. And Nina and the doctor too couldn’t see the dead wasp on the floor either, which was plainly there.

Can it be that these things are real, but are just outside our perceptions?

Perhaps that’s what the formula has done. It didn’t grow my intelligence as it had the monkey’s; it’s grown my perceptions. That’s why every little fault pops out to me so readily–my perceptions are sharper, infinitely sharper, which is why I can see these monsters and others can’t.

I can actually hear them, crunching and munching their way through the door to get to me. I place my hand against the wood and feel the vibrations through my fingertips. They’re no hallucination. If I opened this, they would fly in and tear me apart like they did the nurse.

I stand and briskly walk down the bright hallway, quickly getting as far as I can from them.

The whirlwind of my mind now churns in another direction. Just what the hell are they? Gremlins, demons, goblins? Or some other thing I’ve never even heard of?

I stop in my tracks. No one will believe me when I tell them this. They’ll dismiss the story as lunacy. And the nurse, I suddenly think. How do I explain her? She was horribly killed by invisible creatures? No! They’ll slap a straightjacket on me, toss me back in here, and charge me with murder to boot.

The lab. I’ve got to get back to it and find a way to prove these things are real. If I can figure out what my formula has done, I can replicate it and show the world that these creatures exist and thereby clear my name. And, I realize, I can still be triumphant. The hell with improving the minds of man, this discovery will knock the scientific community on their collective asses! Another world, another civilization, has been right on our very doorstep this entire time–and it’s me that’s found it! My name will be synonymous with the greatest discovery of our time. The hell with Columbus, Dr. Grant Hopsinger will be a name on everyone’s lips.

I’m all kinds of cautious as I round the hallway corner, worried I might bump into one of those things or worse, a staff member.

But the hospital is dead this time of night and the nurse’s station at the end of the hallway is empty. I near it and see the nurse’s cream colored purse hanging from the arm of her chair. I climb over the desk and upend the contents onto the seat. Her car keys, I discover, are amongst lipstick, eye-liner, cigarettes, pills, and tampons.

I press the buzzer on the wall near the desk and the metal door beside the station pops open.

Stepping through the exit is like stepping out of an airlock into space.

The underground parking is a vast dark cavern, lite by a single overhead light, which flickers like it’s on its last legs. A jagged crack runs all the way down the center of the ceiling and I’ve the uneasy feeling it’s about to split open and rain concrete, rebar, and cars down on me.

I press her key fob and far off I hear a beep and see a flash of red lights. Of course, with her stature, she’s a million miles from the door.

The slap of my bare feet echoes as I jog to the car. The sides of the lot are so dark they seem to drop off into infinity.

I run past a cement support column and let out a startled scream when I see him standing on the other side, like he’s been waiting for me. His huge white eyes glow like two phosphor flares.

It’s not just a run I break into, it’s a blinding, blistering dash with my heart pounding in my throat and him hot on my heels. I can hear his fetid coat, madly flapping in the breeze just behind me.

I’m about fifty feet from the car when I slip on a patch of oil. My legs fly out from under me and I’m airborne for a second. Then I hit the ground and slide for a couple meters, ripping my skin across the concrete. As I scramble to my feet, he catches up and rakes my arm with his claws. My white pajamas tear open and five red furrows appear on my bicep.

“Why!?” I shout. “Why?” My mind is racing too quickly to form what I’m thinking into proper words and it all comes out as a single question. I meant: Why me? Why hate me? Why kill me? Why?

He sees I’m hurt and smiles that beautiful corn kernel smile of his. I back away towards the car, keeping my body facing him.

He follows slowly, smiling from ear to ear, confident he has me.

I painfully smack my tailbone against the car door and quickly turn around to grab the handle. With a growl, he leaps onto my back and sinks his teeth into my neck. I throw my head back and scream in pain. Reaching up, I place my hands firmly around his skull. I shudder in revulsion as his skin is moist and clammy like a slug’s. With one swift movement, I twist my body sideways and Judo him over my shoulder. He’s sent flying, but in the process his teeth tear a chunk out of my neck. Blood runs freely from it, staining the front of my pajamas.

He hits the concrete with a thump and rolls along it, a tumbleweed of rotted coat and putrid skin and bones. Not wasting a second, I open the door, leap in, and lock it behind me.

I’m so fired up I can’t get the damn keys into the ignition. I try and try, but it’s like I’m putting a square peg into a round hole.

A loud, shrill whistle sends pins and needles pulsing down my spine. I freeze and look over the dash. He’s standing with his hand on the hood of the car. He taps out the racing rhythm of my heart with his long, bony finger on the metal. Then he purses his emaciated lips together and an inhuman trill issues forth.

Just then, something plunks down on the car’s roof. Then another and another hits the roof, sounding like heavy rainfall. I look up and see a dozen black wasp stingers spearing through the car’s soft top, just inches from my head.

I slam the car key home and the engine sputters to life. Of course, it’s a junker. The fan belt lets out a horrific, protesting shriek as I throw the car into gear and jam my foot to the floor.

The shriveled man calmly steps out of the way of the hurtling car. I rocket through the underground and the wasps are sucked off the roof by the rapid airflow. I fly down the spiraling exit ramp, engine and tires screaming as I go.

I can barely keep the car in the turn. The sides scrape against the walls and sparks flare brightly in the darkness. Then with a gasp I’m shot out of the narrow ramp and onto an empty street.

I keep my foot to the floor, tearing ass down the long, empty road, not daring to look back in the rearview mirror.

The nurse’s tires screech as I pull up to the Science Center. I slam to a stop, kill the engine, and leap out. Not even diligent interns are here at this time of night. The building is a barren brick.

The passcode lets me through the sliding glass doors and into the steel elevator. The levels beep off as I rise.

A million questions percolate in mind, but I can’t fathom an answer to a single one of them. Who is that man? Is it a man? How does he control those wasp things? How long have they been here, creeping around on the outskirts of our vision? For centuries?

Terror and wonder course through me like an electric current, hackling the hairs on the back of my neck. This, I realize, is the thrill that great explorers feel when they find their new worlds. Nothing–nothing!–can compare to this glorious feeling. I am Magellan, standing at the shores of a whole new world.

The elevator dings and opens to a dark hallway. A short dash takes me to my lab. I unlock the glass door, step into the dingy gloom, and wait for my eyes to adjust. When they do, I see Nina lying on the floor beneath the metal operating table. She moans softly, stirs, and turns her face towards me.

I can see a straight-line incision across her brow. It’s still fresh; blood and brackish formula bubble from it.

“Nina!” I shout and reach for her.

She comes to then. Her eyes go wide and she screams and shuffles away from me, crab-like, across the floor and into a corner.

“Nina! What did you do?”

All at once I know. She did this to herself. She wanted to understand what I was going through so she could help me.

All my breath goes out of my chest and I collapse at her feet with a sob. Her love for me is deeper than I could have ever imagined.

“Nina! My poor Nina.” I crawl up to her head, gently lift it and rest it in my lap. It’s too late now. The formula is already acting on her brain, rapidly building new pathways at an exponential rate. There’s no turning back for her.

“Grant?” She says faintly. She reaches up and touches my face, unsure if it’s truly me. Then she recoils like she’s touched a hot stove.

Her face twists horribly in confusion as her eyes spastically scan my face. She’s beginning to see the ugly in me–all the faults in my face, of which there are many, are rising to the top of her perceptions.

“Grant?” she asks.

Unable to stand my appearance, she turns her gaze away. Then she sees something and her eyes go wide and white with fear. She screams and points to the door.

Ghoulish faces line the windows of my lab. A dozen shrunken men, all with moony eyes and rotten yellow teeth stare in at us.

Not a sound issues from them. They watch in silence.

Nina flails in my grasp like a dying fish. This is too much for her. She doesn’t have the mental fortitude or the experience I do to understand and process this. Her mouth fills with white lather and she begins to choke. Her eyes blaze with mad-dog fury. I can tell she’s at her breaking point and one more small push will send her spiraling into a madness from which there’s no coming back.

A face moves in the window. A creature raises a long bony finger to its milkstone eye, taps below the gaunt socket, and smiles.

Suddenly I understand what he’s been trying to tell me all this time. I quickly reach up and unclip the scalpel from the robotic arm. If I cut back the overgrown forest in Nina’s frontal lobes, just a partial sever, then these creatures will disappear from view and she’ll be saved from this insanity. Then hopefully they’ll leave her alone, just as they’ve left everyone alone who cannot see them.

The room fills with the sound of shattering glass and I quickly dig the scalpel into Nina’s incision and begin to cut.

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