Fine-tipped needles glinted under the harsh fluorescent lighting in the lab. Eddie swallowed hard and tugged at his beard. “That’s a really long needle, Doc,” he pointed out. “So, how much is this gonna hurt?”
“Well, it won’t be comfortable, but I promise it will be quick,” Doctor Nikola Berggren’s thick Swedish voice was gentle and lilting. “I’ve done it many times — I’m almost a professional,” he joked. Eddie noticed that the smile the doctor offered didn’t reach his eyes. It unsettled him. Trust usually came easily to Eddie, but something in his gut kept nagging at him, telling him to stop. He rarely ignored his instincts, but this time, he had little choice.
As the doctor bustled around getting things ready, Eddie considered what series of events led him to this place. After three years in New York, he was still struggling to land an acting gig. The paychecks from some small-time commercial producers kept a roof over his head, but they didn’t allow for much more freedom than that. A few days prior, his agent set up an audition for a leading role in an upcoming blockbuster, promising the role suited him perfectly. Now, he had to get to Florida without a dime in his pocket. He needed money fast.
An exhaustive Internet search offered little more than get rich quick schemes, but then he happened upon this. Similar to the research ads promising cash to willing university students and starving artists for medical trials, the information was vague and guaranteed a two-hundred-fifty dollar payout. It would cover his bus ticket and a little snack food for the trip. Burdened with doubt and a primal fear, he still decided to take the offer.
A short man in a pricey grey suit entered the room and nodded at Eddie. An easy-going kind of guy, Eddie naturally reciprocated. The newcomer introduced himself as James Stout, director of the Crime Minds project that Eddie was participating in. The Government-funded program was an effort to help solve complicated violent crimes. This was thanks to a ground-breaking discovery made by Doctor Berggren that resulted in successfully transplanted memories.
“Nervous?” the little man had a husky voice that hardly matched his stature. Eddie shrugged indifferently. In his own mind, he was actually a huge basket of nerves, but pride forbade him to show it. James seemed to understand that. He likely dealt with people just like Eddie on a regular basis.
“It’s a pretty simple procedure,” he continued. “Once it’s done, you’ll have the memories of the deceased host,” he gestured to a door on his right. Eddie paled when he realized there was a dead body on the other side. “The worst part is the needle,” James smiled.
Eddie had his doubts. Playing with someone else’s memories seemed a pretty quick way to find yourself propelled down the street of insanity, but his dream of being an A-List celebrity was worth it to him. The team reassured him that they had psychologists standing by to help the recipients deal with the alien thoughts.
Doctor Berggren disappeared through the door concealing the donor and came out moments later with a vial containing a murky yellowish fluid. Eddie shuddered to think where he extracted it from.
“Is that the murder victim in there?” Eddie pointed a thumb to the closed door. James was already on his way back out into the dimly lit corridor and the doctor appeared not to hear him. When Eddie first enquired about this project, they disclosed that people were usually given the memories of the victim. Sometimes, it was a witness who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Either way, he was apprehensive about remembering a murder, even if it wasn’t his own. Desperation to get his hands on the money so he could go to Florida kept him seated on the surgical table.
Doctor Berggren directed Eddie to lie down and proceeded to tighten straps around his limbs, torso, and across his forehead. That was never a good sign.
“Don’t let the straps frighten you,” he read Eddie’s mind. “They are there to protect you after the procedure in case memories develop too quickly and it causes you distress. But, don’t worry about that,” he patted Eddie’s arm, “it only happened once or twice.”
“Great.” Eddie relaxed his body as much as his anxiety allowed, taking several deep breaths to calm himself. It was bad enough that he had an inherent fear of needles, now he was also dreading the memories he would be stuck with. Though many misgivings about what he was doing swam around in his head, he pushed them all away. For too long, he struggled to make a name for himself in show business. His opportunity had finally come and he would do anything to get there. The doctor hummed incessantly as he prepared the injection and Eddie was beginning to lose his composure. “Can we hurry this up, doc?”
The doctor squeezed Eddie’s wrist gently. “All right now. I’m going to insert the needle into your temple here,” Berggren lightly pressed the side of Eddie’s head. “It’s extremely important that you do not move. If the needle goes where it isn’t supposed to, you could end up blind … or worse — impotent,” he chuckled. Eddie, who wasn’t in a particularly humorous mood, just glared back. “Deep breath,” the doctor instructed.
At first it was a little pinch, then it began to burn. Seconds later, Eddie could feel the sharp tip burrowing into his temporal lobe, but the pain was still localized near the site of injection. He silently thanked God for not weaving nerves into the human brain. The pain wasn’t nearly as bad as he expected it to be, but it was an experience he decided never to repeat. When the doctor advised him that they were all done, Eddie finally realized that he had been biting his tongue. There was a subtle taste of blood in his mouth.
He would remain strapped to the table under constant supervision for at least a half hour to make sure there were no complications; after that he was free to go home. He expected to feel different when it was done, but he didn’t. He was a little worn out from the stress, but otherwise, he was still the same old Eddie.
It could take a few days before the memories started, he was told. When they did, he was to report back to them every time one occurred. The information Eddie could provide for them would help them piece together the clues and, hopefully, catch a murderer.
About forty minutes later, Eddie walked out into the warm sunshine feeling every bit himself as ever and two-hundred-fifty dollars richer.
After five days, Eddie was beginning to think the procedure failed. He hadn’t experienced a single memory that he knew wasn’t his own. A few times, he found himself wondering if he would even know the difference. That night, however, an extraordinary and terrifying thing happened. It began in his dreams.
A woman was running, screaming for her life … someone was chasing her. No — not someone — it was him. He was the faster runner and soon had her blond hair wrapped around his fist as she cried out. There was a flash of steel and a quick blurred motion, followed by the sickening sound of a blade slicing through meat and cartilage. Blood poured out over his hand, warm and sticky. Eddie sat up in a cold sweat.
As soon as he was aware that it was a dream, he glanced at his hand. Though he could still feel the presence of blood on his skin, his hand was clean. The dream was so vehemently lifelike, he could swear he actually murdered the woman. Then he realized, he did. Not by his own actions, but by those of the man whose memories he now owned. A grim revelation came to him then — they didn’t give him the memories of a victim or a witness … he was the killer! Did the doctor knowingly give him the memories of a murderer?
Without any hope of falling back asleep, he dragged himself out of bed and trudged to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. Morning wouldn’t come soon enough and his anger was building steam the more he thought about it.
The clock ticked loudly in his head. 3:00 AM. It would be another six hours before he could call James Stout with his memory. He was increasingly anxious about what new memories would start making their way to his conscious mind.
“You seem different,” Tina was one of the first people Eddie met when he moved to New York from Colorado. A failed attempt to pick her up using one of his cheesy lines had resulted in a great friendship. “Getting enough sleep?”
“Sure, I’m good,” Eddie lied. In truth, the past couple of days found him progressively irritable despite the lack of any more alarming memories. His conversation with James Stout solved nothing. The man swore that they had no idea the killer was in their custody, but he wanted Eddie to keep working through the memories to find out if there were other victims they could tie him to. Eddie agreed reluctantly.
Eddie didn’t feel like himself at all anymore. Honestly, he just wanted to go home and be left alone, but he made plans weeks ago to have lunch with Tina when she returned from her Paris trip. She would want to tell him all about it, and Eddie would just smile when appropriate and feign surprise on cue. He was an actor, after all. He would muddle through and then he would have the freedom to just sit in front of his television for the rest of the day. Time with Tina was usually enjoyable, and he didn’t like having his mind filled with the desire to just be done with it. Guilt compounded his already lousy mood.
Three lattes later, Eddie arrived home, exhausted. The abundant caffeine didn’t help. Rather, it seemed he bypassed the rush and fell headlong into the crash. He threw himself onto the couch and fell asleep within minutes. Angry thoughts filled his dreams but, thankfully, no memories.
He woke late the next morning to the sound of the neighbour’s barking dog. With more effort than usual, he pulled himself off the couch and lumbered to the window. “Shut that damn dog up!” he hollered. It was incredibly uncharacteristic of him to be so impatient and he figured his outburst, along with the fatigue, must mean he was coming down with something. He wasn’t hungry, but he forced some partially-heated canned soup down his throat.
For a long time, he sat in silence, focusing on all the things in the room that bothered him. He used to treasure the guitar propped in the corner, and often stroked at the strings like caressing a lover. Now, the wind blew through the open window and drew across those same strings like a screeching cat. He started to hear whispers, but they weren’t coming from inside the apartment — they were inside his head. He couldn’t hear what they were saying at first.
Determined to figure it out, he concentrated on the voice until it became clearer, guttural … demonic. He wondered if this was a memory of some sort, and was quickly dispelled of that notion when he was suddenly lifted off the couch and tossed forcefully onto the floor. At over six feet tall, Eddie was not someone used to being pushed around so easily, and certainly not by something he couldn’t see. Was his apartment haunted?
I’m inside of you, Eddie.
Eddie froze. The voice in his head didn’t sound like his own voice, but it felt like his own thoughts.
You’re my bitch! The voice laughed, and Eddie soon realized that he was laughing along. It was then that Eddie understood what was happening — he was possessed!
Figured it out? Smart little monkey, the demon mocked him. Wanna see what else I can do?
Eddie walked into the kitchen and grabbed a large knife off the counter. He pressed the blade against his arm and slid it across. The searing pain was real, and blood dripped to the floor, but he couldn’t stop himself.
“You killed the girl in my dream!” Eddie shouted to the disembodied voice. If anyone else was in the room, they would have called him crazy.
Guess what? We’re going to kill someone else! Images of Tina flashed in Eddie’s mind.
“No!” he defied the demon, “I won’t let you!”
You have no choice.
The demon began laughing again inside Eddie’s mind. Eddie was laughing maniacally on the outside.
“Just not Tina,” Eddie cried pitifully. He spent the last two days lying on his couch, using every bit of strength he had to keep the demon from controlling him and his energy was spent. He knew he wouldn’t be able to hold him off much longer. “Do what you want … just don’t hurt Tina.”
Fair enough. Let’s go.
Eddie stepped out into the night, mobilized by the demon’s intentions. It wouldn’t let him see what its plans were, but Eddie knew he wouldn’t enjoy it. They walked in silence for several blocks and reached an area close to the pier. People shuffled in and out of a nearby bar and Eddie stood back in the shadows, waiting. Finally, a young female broke off from her group of friends and started to walk toward him. He willed her to go the other way but, of course, she couldn’t hear him and the demon wouldn’t let him call out to her.
She was close enough now.
Eddie reached out, slapped his hand over her mouth, and swiftly dragged her back into the shadows. She struggled in his arms, but her tiny figure was no match for him. The scent of her perfume wafted up and assaulted his senses. It made him feel angry for reasons he didn’t understand. The aroma was alluring, but left him nauseated.
In the glass window of a building nearby, he caught his reflection. His cheeks were sunken in and his hair and beard were a mess, but it was his eyes that looked worst of all. Completely black and leering, he knew that the demon was fully integrated into his soul now. It would escort Eddie to his grave.
The girl’s muffled cries became more urgent and pleading. Eddie snapped her head to the side, breaking her neck and snuffing out her life. The sound of her cracking bones would stay with him for life. He prayed for death to come and relieve him from this nightmare, and the demon laughed it off. He couldn’t cry or do anything to dispel his grief — the demon wouldn’t allow it, just like he wouldn’t allow Eddie to shoot himself in the head the day before. An evil puppet master pulled Eddie’s strings.
His task accomplished, the demon stepped back for awhile and let Eddie walk himself home in a flurry of regret and emotion. When he arrived, Tina was at his door, waiting. Shocked by his dishevelled and decaying appearance, she planted a hand firmly over her heart. Her brow furrowed with concern.
“Eddie! What happened to you? You look terrible.”
“Tina, no — you can’t be here. You have to go,” he leaned his forehead against the door and fiddled with the key. “Please, go away.”
“I haven’t heard from you in days. You’re not returning my calls. Are you sick?” she probed. “ I’m not leaving you like this.
“You have to!” he yelled at her. Her brown eyes widened in surprise. Pausing just long enough to make sure the neighbours didn’t hear him and come out to investigate, he pushed open his door, dragging her in behind him. “Look, I’m in a bad place and I don’t want to hurt you. Please, just leave.”
Too late. Too late.
“Go! Now!” Eddie pushed her hard. “I’m sorry,” not sorry, “I can’t control it,” he sobbed.
Tina grabbed his arm and shook it, “What’s gotten into you, Eddie? This isn’t you!”
“Demon!” he cried. “I’m … possessed by it. You gotta get out before I hurt you!”
“Get out! Get out! Get out!” the demon yelled audibly with his sepulchral voice and laughed.
Tina jumped back toward the door without taking her eyes off of him. “You need help Eddie,” she cried and quickly closed the door behind her.
The demon continued to laugh in his head, but it allowed Eddie to drop to his knees and weep.
The next night, the demon took Eddie on another walk. This time they murdered a grandfatherly old man with a knife to the chest. Eddie felt it less in his subconscious that time. It was more akin to completing a chore. No emotion welled up within him — it almost seemed a normal thing to do. His fall into darkness was occurring at an alarming rate.
Though he understood clearly that he was losing himself, Eddie didn’t even care anymore. Eventually, the police would catch up with him and, with any luck, they would shoot him dead. He wanted so badly for it all to end.
After washing the blood from his hands, he lay on the couch and stared into space. He didn’t sleep anymore. As he rested, he listened to the demon describe how they were going to kill the next person in exquisite detail and it didn’t bother Eddie in the least.
Hours later, the sun cast its morning glow on the side of his wall. He didn’t move. Eddie could no longer control anything he did. Without the strength to move a finger, the demon was now responsible for his every action. When a knock came at the door, the demon decided not to answer it. Eddie preferred that, anyway.
With no intention of being ignored, Tina picked the lock and walked in, but she wasn’t alone. Two older men, carrying heavy cases and dressed in clerical clothing followed her in. Large wooden crosses hung heavily from chains around their necks.
Eddie rose to his feet and hissed loudly at the men. His eyes turned black and angry red lines burned into his face like a road map. The priests held their crosses before them like shields and began to recite a prayer.
“Most glorious Prince of the Heavenly Armies, Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in our battle against principalities and powers, against the rulers of this world of darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places …”
Eddie collapsed onto the floor. Tina took a step forward, ready to run to Eddie and help him up, but one of the priests held her back with a firm hand and shake of his head. They continued to exorcise the demon from Eddie’s body. He screamed, he vomited, he sent things flying across the room, often hitting the priests with mobile items. Blood dripped from their heads from repeated assaults, but they persisted. Tina ducked under a table and watched from a distance, horrified.
For three days, the priests worked tirelessly to release Eddie’s soul from the demon’s custody. Finally, the room became brighter and Eddie opened his eyes. Worn nearly to his bones, he resembled a skeleton laying on the floor. He turned his head and saw Tina’s worried face. With a lazy smile and the last bit of energy he had, he mouthed the words “thank you”, then closed his eyes and took a final breath.
“What do you think it was?” James Stout hovered around Doctor Berggren as he bent over Eddie’s body. Police surrendered Eddie’s body to the program as it was part of the contract signed by each recipient. They would study his death, then cremate him and dispose of his remains as they saw fit. Not even Eddie’s parents would receive closure by burying their own son.
“Heart failure would be my guess. His body was in virtual hell all this time,” the doctor tsked and turned to James. “Maybe it’s time we ended the project. We’ve had too many negative results.”
“Nonsense. These are necessary sacrifices, Doctor. We’re doing good work here. Sometimes, things go a little wrong, but the overall success of the project has been respectable.”
“It weighs heavy on my heart to see it end like this,” Berggren furrowed his brow as he looked over Eddie’s corpse. “I don’t know if I can continue.”
“Then we’ll find someone who can, Doctor. You’re not indispensable.”
The doctor nodded in defeat and James turned to leave. “Oh—don’t forget to extract his memories,” Stout called back. “We have another recipient.”