The one word that entered Harry’s head as he looked at the dull-eyed silence of the others.
A single word that took up residence in his mind; that usurped all other thoughts, jettisoned them like unwanted garbage. Good, bad: happy, sad.
All passed, all gone.
His mind was a barren landscape, flat, featureless, drab, lacking everything except this one word.
There were vast expanses of space, lightless and empty, holding greater interest. There were rocks, colourless and sterile, existing in an emptiness in which billions of uneventful years passed, that had greater interest.
Nothing consumed them.
Rick struggled to keep his eyelids from closing.
He saw his little boy, arms reaching for his mother, teetering towards her. He looked upset, but knew she would comfort him.
Tracey held her own hands out towards her son, but it was to prevent him coming near to her. She looked terrified of the little boy.
Desperately Rick tried to move, to get to them, to reassure them that everything was fine, this was just illusion - but it was futile, this illusion was becoming nightmare. He was trapped inside a body that couldn't move.
And then Tracey had a knife.
It was the eyes that spurred Tracey into action.
Timmy's eyelids withered back over his eyeballs and the skin around the orbs of both eyes wrinkled and tore as his eyeballs expanded. Pupil and iris shrank to small black dots on their swollen masses. Their whiteness greyed, became lined with capillaries, an explosion of black and red tracings. Then the eyeballs flashed a bright lime-green that glowed with an almost fiery, scorching intensity.
Tracey spun around and leapt to her feet. Instantly she was standing at the cutlery drawer, a long bladed carving knife held out towards her son.
Now on hands and knees, Timmy moved jerkily towards Tracey, his face becoming more grotesque with every juddering movement. His eyes grew bulbous, red-rimmed and lidless, his skin assumed the texture of cold cement. Around his mouth, his lips were no longer defined but ended in scabbed straggles of bloody flesh around the opening, as if they had been grated away- no, worse!, as if they had been chewed away by the pointed yellow teeth that filled his distended, gurgling mouth.
His hands reached out, elongated claws. They flexed, tearing the air each time they raised off the floor.
Rick slowly opened his eyes, fighting against sleep and monumentally heavy eyelids. There'd been a dream. A horrible, disturbing dream: his heart thumping madly in his chest testified to that, as did the cold sweat that clung to him and the fear that filled his stomach.
There'd been a nightmare.
And there'd been a scream. A long, despairing scream.
He forced his drooping eyelids open.
Timmy was obviously playing beside him on the floor.. And nearby was Tracey, on her knees.
Rick tried to move, but his muscles wouldn't respond.
So he just watched as Timmy crawled giggling towards Tracey.
Shocked at his words, Tracey froze. The blood-drenched child next to her dying husband, crawling towards her... must be unreal. Therefore his words... nothing more than nightmare.
The cloying, almost metallic taste of bloodied flesh hung in the air, assailed Tracey's nostrils, fingered the back of her throat to make her retch.
This is just illusion. Has to be... illusion.
Timmy crept close to her.
With all her heart she wanted to fling her arms around him, kiss away the blood, reassure and love him.
But with all her fear she knew she was going to kill him.
Its head craned forward, its arms outstretched.
Its delicate voice was sweet and high pitched, a young child in desperate need of love and reassurance.
Blood still dripped from its outstretched fingers, but his child's smile shone through the smears of red around its mouth.
Tracey fell to her knees, sobs racking her body as she held out her arms to him.
"Mummy," it said, almost in a whisper. "Mummy come to Timmy!"
Eyes blinded by her tears, she almost fell forward towards him as desperately she shuffled closer to him.
"Timmy kill Mummy! Timmy eat Mummy!"
In moments of heightened trauma victims notice and focus on the smallest of things.
Tracey stopped screaming and gasped for air. Her hands reached out in front of her, her fingers like claws. She saw her nails, nicely manicured but not polished.
Outside, a bird sang. One voice, a beautiful trill. Perhaps a fledgling, calling for its mother. The song was a song of hope, each note a clear and colourful call in the gloom, a reminder of everything that was right and correct and beautiful and sacred in nature.
It was a precursor to the dawn.
A false dawn.
Slowly, the thing - Tracey could think of no other name for it, though her mind screamed "Timmy, my baby! My little boy!" - removed it's hands from a gaping cavity that it had gouged in Rick's chest. The visible darkness was decaying and an ashen light began infecting the apartment. It was this light which showed Tracey a glimpse of white amongst the red - an unbloodied portion of rib or sternum - and something small pulsing with regularity - Rick's still beating heart.
The thing that was Timmy turned, and slid off Rick's body. Turned, and reached out it's arms for it's mother.
The head of the thing that looked like Timmy - it couldn't be Timmy, surely? Tracey couldn't bring herself to believe that the bloodied snarling came from her lovely little boy - turned to face the scream.
Half-kneeling on Rick's stomach, it's head faced Tracey.
If there was any breath left inside her, if there was any air left in the world, Tracey would have screamed again, for Timmy's eyes locked with hers and they were full of love and need. It's breathing lost it's guttural, liquid desperation and it's bloodied, dripping teeth became visible in a disturbed grin of recognition.
The scream filled the void in Tracey's fear. It filled the apartment. The thing that was Timmy watched in amused recognition as the scream, spider-like once more, hung portentously in the middle of the room, as if on a thread out of Tracey's distended mouth , .
In the apartment downstairs, the scream took the form of abject fear. All who sat around the table, felt it and within it recognised their own failure and despair, their own hurt and defeat.
Heads bowed and tears fell. Harry Danes, alone, sat unmoved. He alone recognised the source of the fear.
Then the noisome shape began to clarify in her vision. Its edges became clear, assumed a more defined form, blacker against the black of the night. Again she rubbed her eyes.
Waiting for another explanation to form in her frantic mind.
But nothing came.
It looked like Timmy, head jerking up and down like a wild beast, feeding on-
She saw Rick's arms prone across the floor. A dismembered leg.
Unwilling to comprehend, her scream, uncontrolled and hysterical filled her body and soul and rang out long and desperate into the unholiness of the cold, dark night.
Whatever it was doing took its whole concentration.
Whatever it was didn't seem to notice her move.
Whatever it was.
As she looked around she realised the room was drowned in darkness. Her brow furrowed, not just in pain. Surely it had been daylight a moment ago? She blinked and slowly bought her hand up to rub her eyes. Focus! she thought. That's it! It must be night.
As she adjusted to the light, blacker silhouettes, more or less familiar to her, formed into familiar objects that she knew in the room. A chair. Table. A door. Timmy's toybox.
Slowly, cautiously silent, Tracey moved. Her muscles, too long in one position, burned with pain as she forced them into life again. She lifted herself on her arm so she could turn her head - grimacing as she fought the pain that spasmed in her neck muscles - to see the source of her fear.
From her prone position she couldn't make out the shape she saw. It jerked, dark and formless, with guttural, wet snarls, but try as she might she couldn't quite work out what it was.
Its shape shuddered in the flickering from the light of the silent television.
"What's the nature of your experiment?" Harry Danes spoke softly, hoping to lessen the atmosphere of anger within the room.
The glass moved across the board.
To determine the power of the human gene to protect itself against emotional imperatives.
Harry rubbed his face.
"And you are willing to allow a human being to die? What will that prove? It's only one individual. Your methodology is flawed."
It is more than one individual.
Your assumptions are flawed. That is understandable: death is a flawed concept.
"Bullshit!" shouted Ryland.
The experiment progresses. It has now moved into its final phase.
The boy's lips kept repeating the same word. Silently.
The realisation that the little boy was Timmy startled Tracey and she was thrust back into reality: she felt like a cork held underwater then released as she shot up and bobbed back to the surface of the real world. Suddenly she was once more aware of where she was, lying frightened on the floor in a growing pool of blood, her back to something so evil that its presence gnawed at her fear and her sanity. And the noises! Vicious, disturbing snarls of the clawing, rending, frenzied feeding.
There was something about the child. Something that disturbed her. Strangely, she somehow knew he hadn't long stopped crying and she desperately longed to reach out to him, pull him out of the screen, out of that silent hell and hold him, reassure him, tell him that everything would be alright. But she couldn't.
The child's face glistened wet with tears as well as blood, and the occasional sob convulsed his body.
She watched spellbound as fear left his wide, staring eyes. He wiped his nose on his sleeve. A smile spread across his face.
He looked directly at Tracey.
In the apartment below, Ryland, face taught with barely controlled rage, stood so fast his chair toppled.
"That's fucking disgusting!" he shouted at the ouija board, kicked his chair to one side and strode to the window. He held his fists clenched at his chest.
"You cannot do that!" he yelled into the air, "Child! Mother! That's not experiments, that's just fucking evil!"
Harry was behind Ryland in a moment, and only Ryland heard his whispered words.
"Don't lose control, Daniel. We need you."
Daniel's fist smashed against a wall. Then he turned, righted his chair and sat down again.
Hardly noticeable amongst the bleeding frenzy a young child, face taught with disbelief and horror, is standing between two of the seated guests. His face is spattered with their blood.
He's not much more than a baby, bless him, Tracey thought.
His face was all huge eyes and splashes of red, drying dark on his skin. Perhaps it's wine, Tracey hoped, but she knew she was fooling herself. His head only just reached the table-top and his hands held onto the side of it as if he would fall without support. How hadn't she noticed the poor child before?
The lip swung loosely before falling. He tried to catch it with his mouth, but failed and it lay wormlike in his dessert bowl, adding a vivid raspberry flourish. Greasy fingers retrieved it and pushed it into his mouth.
His other hand, still gripping the embedded fork, worked it backwards and forwards. Slices of cheek fell away. He stabbed at his nose time after time until that too, in varying sizes, fell into his lap.
He glanced around apologetically, as if he'd just allowed a little caviar to fall. But no one noticed. They were all eating their own flesh.