The animation cover art is used with the permission of the artist, xxmileikaivanaxx, my beautiful daughter.
This story was originally published in The Write Practice Summer Writing Contest 2019.
The theme for the contest was CONSTRAINT – within four walls, the characters couldn’t leave the room. Flashbacks were allowed however. I played on the theme of Constraint with that of constraints within one’s mine also, using hypnotic regression to escape the constraint and facilitate flashbacks.
As the high-security airlock doors whine, seal and deadlock behind her with an ominous thump, Amelie feels the weight of possibility and fear in equal measure.
They’ve tried everything else. Bribes, beatings, torture. Even the painful truth serum, which felt like acid etching through her veins, produced nothing.
She entwines her fingers, contrasting the long perfect fingers of her right hand with the mangled digits of her left. A side-effect of their ineffective persuasion process, each agonizing break and twist ensuring that she would never be able to play the violin again. She would have talked to save her hand – but you can’t divulge what you can’t remember. They deliberately chose to leave the right hand intact. Thankfully – her trigger finger was unrivaled in the Department. She takes some comfort from this. She understands their motivation though. They have to crack her because somewhere locked in her brain is the lost connection that will link all the pieces. That’s why she’s still alive.
So now they’ve brought her here. This really is their last resort.
Where she’s in here with him, there’s no escaping. There’s just the sensation of him entering her mind, possessing and releasing her simultaneously.
Predictably he has a very persuasive voice. Reminding her of smooth molten caramel inside melting chocolate. She wonders if this was part of the job specification. Must have voice that will disarm and defuse. That could be dangerous.
He greets her with an obligatory nod and points to the worn black recliner. As always she wonders whether his techniques were successful with its previous occupants. She crawls onto the chair with pantheresque movements.
His name is Wayne, at least that’s what they told her. She knows that’s unlikely, particularly in light of her own passport collection.
Wayne likes routine.
Wayne has previously divulged that he expects great progress today.
As Wayne scans his computer screen, locating the right mood music no doubt, Amelie analyses his profile. He runs his left hand through his hair, reminding her of someone. He’s pleasing to look at. Wayne has been blessed with what the classics would describe as a Patrician nose. And a chiseled jaw. In another world she could have found him attractive.
“Let’s begin.” Wayne turns abruptly towards her, his long fringe flicking off his tanned face revealing a scar through his left eyebrow.
He definitely reminds her of someone. Starting the soundtrack, he moves his swivel chair so that he is positioned behind her head and conveniently out of sight. She nods, feeling his breath, warm and faintly smelling of last night’s garlic, on her temple.
“Look above you Amelie. Focus on the fan.”
Amelie angles her head, awkwardly gazing upwards. A state-of-the-art stainless steel ceiling fan is rotating on full velocity.
The revolving blades are hypnotic. As the blades slow, the light bounces off them, dazing her slightly. They cast flickering shadows over her face until finally they are motionless.
He starts with the voice, the silky tones mesmerizing her almost instantly now, hardly necessitating the trigger word he has programmed her to respond to in the previous session.
He keeps talking, directing her so the trance deepens. Testing the level he asks her to raise her left arm. It levitates as if on a string held by a puppeteer on the ceiling, her wrist limp and crooked fingers pointing in bizarre directions. He reaches out caressing her distorted fingers gently as he pushes her arm back down onto the armrest.
“I’m going to help you relax your arm now. Relaxing it down on the chair. Relaxing it along with all of your body. You are so relaxed you can feel yourself melting down into the chair….”
Amelie’s eyes close, her facial muscles slacken and she drifts into a deep hypnotic state.
Observing Amelie’s face in repose, Wayne’s eyes caress it’s heart shape. A once perfect face that now has a faint scar above once luscious lips, a scar that no amount of plastic surgery seems to quite eradicate. He recalls what it had been like to kiss those lips. This memory evokes how she could transform from misleading flirtatiousness to intimidating reserve in a heartbeat. He re-experiences the icy allure that had made her such a brilliant assassin and now such a difficult subject.
He glances up at the camera. Breathing deeply Wayne shakes his head and throws back his shoulders.
“Amelie, picture yourself at the top of a staircase. A spiral staircase. It can take you wherever you choose. There are ten safe steps down, with each step you move back a year in time. And you can get off the staircase wherever you want…
Feeling safe and secure start down the stairs now. One step down and you’re in last year, when you were in hospital. Down another step and you are in the year before, 2017. Back to when you worked with Dr. Forrester in the laboratory.
Perhaps you would like to get off at this step and follow the path from the step to that laboratory….”
Amelie raises her right index finger, the programmed response for yes.
Wayne leans in close to Amelie, observing her breathing and autonomic responses. Her breath is slow, steady and deep, whilst her eyes move rapidly under her closed pale lids. He closes his eyes and tilts his head back, exhaling a pent up breath.
Stretching over to the nearest bench top, he retrieves a remote control and taps a series of buttons that snap the omnipresent overhead camera into life. Red lights flashing, the camera descends on its robotic arm, whirring as it zooms in on Amelie’s face.
“You know the path well, Amelie. You walked it everyday with Forrester, from the car park to the laboratory. As you walk along the path you notice something different. Something’s wrong….can you see it?”
Amelie remains motionless. Her fingers don’t move in response to Wayne’s question.
“Amelie, notice what’s around the path. Use all your senses. What can you smell?”
Her nose wrinkles and she coughs, her voice husky, “Smoke.”
“Smoke. What can you hear? Voices?”
Amelie turns her head, sighing. “Can’t hear them…”
“Go closer Amelie.”
Amelie’s frame stiffens, her brows raise and her mouth gapes open. Her exquisite face collapses in on itself, morphing into a rictus grin. A vein pulses in her neck. Her breathing becomes sporadic.
“No…please…no! Just take it!” Amelie’s tone escalates as she pleads. A tear falls from her left eye and runs down onto the scar above her lip.
Wayne reaches his hand over to wipe the tear, stopping midair, glances up at the camera.
Amelie’s body jolts as if she has been punched.
She clutches her stomach and screams. Wayne reaches over and takes her pulse.
Her lips are taut displaying bared teeth. She tries to speak through them, emitting a wailing sound.
Wayne, still holding her hand, envelops it in both of his.
“Amelie, you’ve been shot, but it’s alright. Help’s coming… Can you hear the ambulance? You’re going to make it, stay with me Amelie…”
Amelie sobs, her tautly muscled frame shudders, sending ripples through her skintight top. Her eyes dart from side to side beneath scrunched lids.
“What can you see Amelie? Can you see Forrester?”
She nods. Her body shakes violently.
“Where is he? Amelie, stay with me. Help’s coming ….”
Amelie’s breathing is shallow and fast. Wayne takes her pulse again. His jaw tightens.
A voice booms from the intercom, “Bring her out now.”
“No, I’ve got to bring her down first, waking now would be counterproductive.”
“Amelie, listen to my voice. You’re safe. Just breathe deeply….feeling it deep right down into your stomach and then, exhale slowly. Breathe with me….”
Wayne breathes in deeply then exhales slowly. On the third breath Amelie follows him, and her breathing steadies.
Wayne takes her pulse again. His face relaxes.
“Amelie, we’re going to count to five and on the count of five you’re going to wake up and you’ll remember what you saw but you won’t have any pain…
Listen to my voice, Amelie. One, Starting to wake up. Two, feeling safe and no pain. Three, feeling your eyelids flutter. Four, you’re feeling fine and you remember what happened to Forrester. Five, wide awake.”
Amelie blinks open her eyes and looks at his hand still holding hers, his strong large fingers bizarrely intertwined with her mangled digits.
“What happened to Forrester, Amelie? Did they shoot him too?”
Amelie shakes her head and looks away, tears fall freely from eyes that resemble a deer’s in the headlights. Lips trembling, she swallows hard looking directly at but also through Wayne.
“It was Forrester. He stole the formula we were working on. He was the shooter.” The words emerge like bullets from a gun.
“I’m sorry Amelie….”
“But you already know that Wayne,” she chokes and looks up at him through bloodshot eyes. “You…you….”
Wayne jumps up and turns off the camera.
“You were there.”