The ambulance doors slammed shut behind her. With scarcely a warning, shadows engulfed Vivian. A cacophony of noise exploded in her ears. Images flashed behind her eyes, accompanied by wretched screaming, but the only detail that manifested was a visual canvas of red and black.
Voices, unknown and familiar, shouted in garbled tongues that made no sense. She could hear Camilla pleading with her, her father shouting in reprimand, and a male, silky voice that both soothed and terrified her. Images from last year’s harrowing investigation burrowed through her like bullets under her skin. She beheld tuberculosis sanitariums and the body of Camilla’s murdered uncle.
Suddenly, she felt the cold steel of a gun sweating in her hand. A pool of scarlet erupted in voluminous force on the ambulance floor at her feet.
Her arms felt pinned to her sides by invisible bonds. An endless loop of paralyzing terror washed over her. She couldn’t move something as simple as a finger.
She wanted to fold in on herself amid the confines of the ambulance. A choir of guttural voices droned in the back of her skull, each one more vomitous and malignant than the last. Vivian reached for her slender throat because it felt like her head might slide off at any moment. Somehow in those past moments she unlearned the ability to breathe. She could barely lift her head to see if Gavin was still sitting next to her. No, she felt entirely alone, and her only companion was her mentor’s corpse.
Every sense in her vibrated with intensity that bled into pain. Images flitted through her head like a film reel spattering acid and blood. That grisly metaphor summed up the last two years of her life with marvelous accuracy.
The darkness unlatched itself from her. It felt as though air filled her lungs and a veil was lifted from her eyes. The world came into astonishing focus and she was staring down at the corpse's pale face on the autopsy table.
She couldn’t remember anything that transpired in the last twenty minutes. Where had she gone mentally? Into an emotional hell of her own design? Vivian didn’t recall the body being transported into the morgue or relieving her from the body bag.
“What the fuck is happening to me?” she murmured as Gavin entered the room. He was dressed in white scrubs and a facial visor that concealed his mouth. As her senses reawakened, the smell of disinfectant and bleach burned her nostrils.
She found Gavin staring at her behind the translucent panels of his mask. The familiar angles of his nose and jaw were swallowed up in that white mesh barrier, rendering his face inhuman.
“Are you ready to begin?”