One sentence summary: Lilah Baker consents to a new sleep therapy for rapid weight loss, but experiences terrifying consequences she didn’t anticipate.
I ducked between two above-ground tombs, pressing my back against the cool stone. My heart pounded against the bones in my chest and my ribs began to ache. I had been to Lafayette Cemetery before, but only during daylight. The moon (full, of course) gave life to shadows that didn’t exist under the sun’s watch. My gasping breaths caught when I heard crunching gravel nearby. I knew the faceless figure would find me soon. Pumped full of adrenaline and sheer terror, I bolted for the nearest sidewalk path and ran. I saw the wrought iron archway of the cemetery entrance and made a sharp right to head toward it. I felt the first glimmer of hope that I’d escape. Then, I tripped on a buckled concrete seam and landed on my left knee. The figure grabbed my uninjured leg. I tried to kick free and slide away, but the grip only tightened. My foe’s other hand raised a machete over its cloaked head. My eyes focused on the moonlight glinting off the silver blade. I drew my arms over my face so I wouldn’t see it coming. I prayed the end would be swift.
I sat up, battling terror that threatened to suffocate me. I toppled off the edge of my bed, landing on the carpet with thud. Confused, I raised myself onto my elbows and scanned my bedroom. It felt so real. Ever since I did the deep sleep weight loss program with Dr. Sutton, I had terrifying dreams every night. I untangled my leg from the sheet and pulled myself up. As soon as I put weight on my left leg, pain radiated from my knee. I brushed my fingers over the area and felt a warm, sticky smear. I flipped on the bedroom light and saw the crimson stain on my fingertips. I slid my thumb over the not-yet-coagulated blood on my hand. How?
*** *** ***
Four weeks ago, I sat in Dr. Sutton’s waiting room, flipping through last season’s Good Housekeeping magazine. After hearing the radio ad about a new weight loss treatment guaranteed to shed ten pounds a week, I scheduled my appointment. I needed quick results. My ex-fiancé was getting married on October 31, and there was no other way I could lose thirty pounds in time. I still loved him, and I knew if he saw me looking better than I did when we were engaged, he’d change his mind.
“Lilah Baker?” A nurse called from the door leading to the exam rooms.
I tossed the magazine on the square table. It landed on top of a sloppy mess of outdated reading material. “Right here.”
I followed her to the second door on the right and obeyed when she gestured me to enter. This didn’t look like any exam room I’d ever seen. Instead of a vinyl upholstered table covered with a long sheet of white paper, a long, clear tube-like encasing sat kitty-corner dividing the room in half.
“That’s the imaging machine,” the nurse said, as if sensing my question. “Here. Undress and put this on. Dr. Sutton will be in soon.”
I took the lime green garment, which resembled a wet suit, and was a bit surprised by its weight. Expecting paper, or even a flimsy cloth robe, I pinched the fabric between my thumb and forefinger, intrigued by the squishy gel feeling.
I felt self-conscious in the tight suit. The gel fabric left an unattractive bulge where it ended mid-thigh. I challenged myself to keep my shoulders from slumping and my spine straight as I waited in the only normal chair in the room.
A short, balding man entered after two quick knocks on the door. He wrinkled his nose to nudge his wire-rimmed glasses into place. “Good afternoon, I’m Dr. Sutton.”
“Lilah Baker.” I said, shaking his hand.
He sat on the padded stool. “Says here you want to lose thirty pounds.” He gave me a once-over, eyes lingering on my midsection.
I folded my arms across my chest. “Yes.”
“We guarantee ten pounds per week, but some have had more dramatic loss. Imaging will help us determine your body type and cellular composition. Can you commit to three weeks in-patient?”
“Well, uh… I didn’t realize I wouldn’t be at home, but I do have some vacation saved.”
“We keep our patients in incubating rooms, each climate-controlled for optimum sleep. Once the desired weight is reached, patients wake naturally.”
“So, it’s kind of like hibernation?”
Dr. Sutton shrugged. “That’s an oversimplification, but you can think of it that way. Let’s do your scan.”
I climbed into the tube and he latched the lid over me. I don’t know what I expected, but I can say it wasn’t the icy water that filled the tube. He instructed me to be still, which I had no problem doing because any movement would’ve meant I’d lose the air pocket situated over my face. Several minutes later, the water drained and warm air pumped into the tube. When he opened the lid after a few minutes, my skin had completely dried.
“You’re on target for twelve pounds a week,” he announced after analyzing a chart displayed on his computer.
“And I lose the weight just by sleeping?”
“There are other physiological processes involved, but that’s essentially correct.” He handed me packet several pages thick. “This consent form provides everything you should know, including possible risks and complications, and what to expect post-sleep. I suggest you read through it and, if you’re still interested, sign the last page. Then, a nurse will schedule your entry.”
I flipped through the pages- five full ones with small print- and signed the line on the last page. “Oh. I almost forgot- do you want the background packet now, too?”
“Cindy will take that up front.”
I passed him the signed consent.
Dr. Sutton smiled and shook my hand. “Welcome to the new you.”
*** *** ***
I sat at my kitchen table with a mug of hot chocolate. The adrenaline subsided, leaving a balmy sheen of perspiration on my skin. The muddled feeling in my brain didn’t go away. I’d felt out of sorts since I returned home five days ago. As promised, I reached my goal weight of 130 pounds, and lost an additional pound since “re-acclimating to my normal environment,” as Dr. Sutton called it.
An intense urge to sleep came over me, followed by the sensation of bugs wriggling beneath my skin. I filled my mug with water and left it in the sink to clean later. I rubbed water over my bare arms, but the crawling sensation continued.
I grew curious if these were normal side effects of the induced sleep, so I searched the stack of mail on the counter to find my copy of the consent form. Through blurred vision, I found the envelope with the logo from Sutton Sleep Therapy in the upper left corner. I flattened the tri-folded papers, but couldn’t focus on the words.
A feeling of terror rose inside me. I couldn’t figure out the trigger, but I instinctively grabbed a butcher knife and sprinted through my house, checking every window and door lock. I peeked under beds, inside closets and behind doors. Satisfied no intruder had crept in, I collapsed on the couch, breathing heavy and muscles tensed.
I looked at the papers still clenched in my left hand and began to read.
You may experience vivid dreams. Some participants have reported episodes of fear, which have occurred during waking hours and REM sleep. Short term memory loss, though rare, has also been reported.
I remembered the background packet. I had revealed my worst fears, situations that induce anxiety, in addition to my entire medical history. Just then, it occurred to me that every nightmare I had since returning home involved my responses to those questions. Dr. Sutton used that information to get maximum results!
That wasn’t the worst of it. By page four, I understood the true horror of my situation.
You will have a computer chip implanted on your right amygdala which will allow us to stimulate physical activity and maintain weight loss. This will also provide us with the ability to track your individual progress. Signing of this release waives all rights to data compiled and grants permission to Sutton Sleep Center to use your name and details of your results in future marketing materials.
I touched the tiny lump on the side of my head. I couldn’t feel the incision, which had probably healed during my weeks of sleep.
Tampering with the implant will result in immediate removal from the program, rapid weight gain, and possible death.
Inspiration: For those who read my stories and wonder, “what were you thinking?” this part is for you! The story came to me late at night while getting ready for bed. I thought I should probably try to go to bed earlier since it might help me lose a few extra pounds. Then I imagined how much weight could be lost if we were put into a coma-like sleep. That’s when the skeptic in me surfaced and went down the path of what could go wrong with that quick fix.
Starting with a dream seemed a bit cliche, but in the end, I stuck with that because it set up her bizarre predicament and, I hope, kept you interested enough to read about what led up to it. I don’t consider myself a science fiction writer, but this one has a sci-fi feel to me. Chips implanted in the brain? Scary!
Yep, my mind is a twisted place, but I think this story fit in with my goal of writing ‘creepy’ in October. What do you think? :)