Randy White could not sleep.
The stifling heat caused his forehead to bead with sweat, drops cascading down his face onto a soggy pillow. An aggravated sigh escaped him as he lay on his back, his disheveled hair clung to his head like wet tendrils of despair. Frustration clawed at him, twisting his features into a grimace of torment. His skull once again throbbed with a relentless ache, and in his mind, an image burned like a brand: his wife and children.
Their faces, etched in black and white, stared back at him from within the confines of his tortured mind. The image of his wife and two daughters stood in a room of absolute darkness, an inky void swallowing all but their still faces. Their expressions were frozen in a blank stare that bore into him with an intensity that turned his stomach. An unspoken terror, an accusation of guilt and shame radiated from them, searing into his very soul.
"What the fuck do you fucking want from me"! Randy screamed, spit launching from his mouth.
With a panicked cry, Randy sat up, his drenched hair matted against his throbbing skull. His eyes were wide, ablaze with a mixture of panic and anger, locked onto the haunting image three feet in front of him. "What the fuck is happening?" he bellowed, his voice a mere whisper against the oppressive darkness. The specters of his family didn't move, didn't react to his outburst. Desperation clawed at him as he clenched his fists, striking his legs in a frenzy. Pain jolted through him like electric currents, each strike fueling his agony.
And then the image of his family simply vanished, leaving behind only a chilling emptiness. The drained man allowed a smile to creep across his lips, a soft buzzing calm settling over him like a shroud. Finally, peace, he thought.
But that serenity was shattered by a soft whisper that slithered through the darkness from his left.
His head snapped in that direction, eyes wide with terror. His wife, Sharon, materialized in the shadows. "What the fuck is going on?" His voice quivered, the fear barely contained within his words.
Sharon's form became solid, her voice only inches from his ears. "Are you trapped in another nightmare, Randy?"
"Am I?" Randy's voice trembled, a mixture of hope and dread intertwining in his heart.
"It seems like it. You've been thrashing and turning all night," she replied with an almost dismissive scoff.
Realization slowly dawned on him. This wasn't real. He was still in the drug trial. "I'm dreaming," he murmured, his voice shaky as he exhaled a breath he didn't realize he'd been holding.
"Yeah, the same old story. Another night, another haunting dream. Ever since you got out of that damn drug trial, this has been your reality. When does it end?" Sharon's words dripped with frustration.
But a nagging doubt lingered in the back of Randy's mind. He studied her body, then turned his gaze around the dim room. Familiar outlines emerged from the shadows – the TV against the far wall, her dresser adorned with knickknacks, and all their personal belongings scattered about. This was their bedroom, a room etched into his memory. "No, I'm inside the trial, dreaming about you," he said, a quiver of uncertainty in his voice.
Sharon laughed, a sound that curdled his blood. "This is ridiculous, Randy. You've been saying the same thing every night. Tomorrow morning, you should call Dr. Nelson. These drug aftereffects are obviously messing with your head."
Randy sat there, grappling with a reality that was slipping through his fingers like sand. He reached out to touch Sharon's face, an attempt to anchor himself in some semblance of sanity. His hand met empty air as she swatted it away, her features contorted into a frown. The eerie familiarity of this scene clawed at his mind.
"I need to see the kids," Randy announced abruptly, his voice strained as he struggled to make sense of the fragments around him.
"Do not wake them up," Sharon's stern voice followed him as he scrambled out of bed. He grabbed his bathrobe from the hook on the closet door, clumsily draping it over his body as he exited the room. The hallway stretched before him, a dimly lit path leading him towards his daughters' bedroom. He slapped his own face repeatedly, a desperate attempt to ground himself in a reality that was swiftly slipping away. Was any of this real? Or was he spiraling further into the abyss of his own broken mind?
The bedroom door creaked open, revealing a scene of innocence and warmth. Two beds, side by side against the far wall, bathed in the gentle glow of a My Little Pony nightlight. Randy's heart skipped a beat as he heard the rhythmic breathing of his daughters, Jenna and Rachel, emanating from within. Relief surged through him, a brittle lifeline in the sea of doubt.
Approaching Jenna's bed, the closer of the two, a swell of joy enveloped him. He gazed upon her sleeping form, her features peaceful in slumber, a lock of blonde hair obscuring part of her angelic face. He reached out to touch her, to reassure himself that this moment was real, that he was anchored in something tangible.
As his hand inched closer, a cold shiver ran down his spine, a premonition of dread worming its way into his gut.
"I told you not to wake them," a voice – Sharon's voice – erupted behind him, like the anguished cry of a vengeful spirit.
Randy's head snapped towards the doorway, his heart pounding in his chest.
There stood Sharon, her presence a morbid spectacle. Her face, once a canvas of beauty, was now an image of horror. Blood streaked across her features, a grotesque mask of suffering. The very sight of her twisted visage sent a wave of nausea crashing over him.
"Sharon, what’s wrong with you? What happened?" Randy's voice trembled, a mixture of disbelief and primal fear seeping through.
She scoffed, her laugh a mix of madness and malice. "Oh, come on, Asshole, you don’t remember?"
"Remember? Remember what?" The question tumbled from his lips, the answer echoing deep within his subconscious, like a forgotten nightmare clawing its way back.
"You killed us, you stupid bastard," she spat, the words dripping with venom.
"Don't you remember, Randall?" hissed his brother Andrew, suddenly appearing in the doorway, his face completely caved in.
Randy's mind was a whirlwind of rapid images flashing violently through his mind:
His brother, wife, and kids crammed into the car, him at the wheel, but with a drink in hand.
His wife's voice shrilled, "Slow down!" Their kids wailed, anxiety and tears etched on their faces.
Rage consumed Randy; he snapped, "Shut up! Sick of your fucking nagging!"
His brother, Andrew, squeezed between the kids, begged, "Randy, please, stop this!"
Fury consumed him; he slammed the windshield with his fist and screamed. His eyes, a storm of red, the road a blur of gray.
CRACK! The crash echoed.
Bent metal, broken glass and blood on the dashboard. Bodies of his lifeless family, Randy staggers out, moves his wife's corpse to the driver's side, shoves what's left of the passenger door open.
Skyward rage, fists tangled in hair.
A guttural scream of horror choked in Randy's throat, his mind struggling to process the nightmarish revelation. He turned back to his daughter, a desperate need for solace driving him forward. Just as his fingers were about to make contact, the world shattered. The room dissolved into nothingness, Jenna's form evaporating before his eyes. Panic clawed at him, an unrelenting grip of horror as his surroundings unraveled like a gruesome tapestry.
No, no, no! Randy's mind grated in a futile protest, the anguished cry echoing within the confines of his own consciousness. He pivoted, seeking escape through the door he had entered, but it too vanished into the void. A feeble cry for help fell from his lips, a mere whisper swallowed by the gaping chasm of his mind.
The onslaught continued, the relentless assault of his past misdeeds and buried shame colliding with his mind like a freight train on a collision course. Each memory was a hammer blow, each instance of weakness and cowardice a jagged blade to his soul. He was defenseless, trapped within the vortex of his own consciousness, a prisoner to his own demons.
Randy would scream for help countless thousands of times with no answer. And as the torment raged on, his sanity began to dim. His family, the trial, his own identity – all of it faded into a distant haze. The anguished pleas for help had morphed into an agonized whimper, the remnants of his consciousness swallowed by the abyss.
By the time Randy White awoke the following morning, his mind was a hollow shell. He emerged from his fitful slumber like a wraith, disconnected from himself and his surroundings. The once-familiar faces around him were now strangers, the room foreign and alien. As the morning progressed, the sense of being – of being Randy White – grew dimmer, fading like a distant star.
Randy's movements were sluggish, a mechanical mimicry of life. The loudspeaker's commands guided him, puppeteering his actions with a relentless grip. The people around him, the laboratory itself – all of it seemed distant, unreal, as if he were merely a specter haunting his own existence. The weight of his name, his identity, became more burdensome with each passing moment.
He was too weary to question, too lost to wonder. Who was this "Randy" anyway? The lines between reality and nightmare had blurred beyond recognition. And so, he continued to shuffle through the motions, a ghostly figure caught in the crosscurrents of a reality that no longer held any meaning.
The mindless remnant of Randy White knew what it had to do.