Chapter Seven

Susan stared into the water, only partially aware of her surroundings. The water flowed seamlessly, almost taking on a life of its own. Within the shallow depths of the stream, Susan gazed at her reflection, an image that had decreased in vitality, radiance, and stability. Though still somewhat intact, her beauty had lost a certain degree of vibrancy. Not too far in the past, her complexion had been smooth and clear, characteristics that appealed to most men, but the passage of time had stripped her of all innocence.

She wanted to look away, even if only for a brief moment, but her unconscious mind prevented her from doing so. Several more moments went by, during which time she almost lost control of her emotions, negative or otherwise. She laughed, cried, and groaned, seemingly all at the same time. Several leaves, some of them quite colorful, fell from the trees. Susan gazed up at the falling leaves, presently quite tranquil, but only for a fleeting moment. Ever so gradually, and without almost any warning, the sky darkened, thus once and for all removing any trace of peacefulness from Susan's fragile heart.

Susan heard several footsteps, the bulk of them sounding quite familiar. With every proceeding step, whether big or small, the sky continued to darken, almost blocking all light in the process. Rather suddenly, a hand landed on her shoulder, its touch cold and bitter. Momentarily, Susan contemplated speaking, but the words, for reasons unknown to her, could not be released. Cold fear, or perhaps even something more serious, kept her soft lips from moving. She remained perfectly motionless, at the mercy of the forces that surrounded her delicate frame.

Edward continued to place pressure on Susan's shoulder, his motivation unknown. Not so subtly, Edward's facial muscles started to formulate a smile, as if taking pleasure from the obvious act of aggression. By contrast, Sam remained several feet away, therefore making him more of an observer than an actual participant. He stood amongst several pine trees, the cool breeze hitting his face. Had it not been for the intense situation, of which he had very little control, he would have been at peace.

"My child, you seem troubled," Edward said, sympathy in his voice.

"Why are you back so soon?"

"We've actually been watching you for several minutes, but of course, we didn't wish to disturb you. You seemed so peaceful, after all," Edward uttered.

"This afternoon, as far as I'm concerned, has been a living nightmare. Presently, my mind has been full of misery, one thing which I've always been accustomed to, but until recently, it has always been in the back of my mind. Lately, however, it has truly come to life. Try though I might, it simply will not abandon me," she cried.

"Sooner than you think, your misery will come to an end. The cure has always been there, inside of your unconscious mind, but it has to come to the surface. It will be painful, yes, but in the end, it will be worth it, one hundred percent. As you know, I've never been a very faithful person, in spite of my best efforts. You must have faith in me, and in turn, I will have faith in you," Edward attested.

"My faith is gone," Susan responded.

Susan ventured away from Edward's arm, aware only of the gentle breeze on her fragile face. She ventured towards the stream, very nearly stepping in it, but at the last second, her feet came to a complete halt. Almost as an afterthought, Susan scooped some of the water into her hand, sipping it gently, delicately, and smoothly. She savored every aspect of the water, the taste not mattering nearly as much as the texture, an aspect which could not be replaced.

"You know, I've always loved this water. It's clean and innocent, much like I was once, so very long ago," she observed.

"With my help, you can be that way again," Edward said, stepping beside her.

"Dad, if you really want to help me, you must tell me the truth," Susan said.

"What do you mean?"

"You've never told me about what happened to my mother, for example. She died thirty years ago, but still, you've never told me what really happened to her. Right here and now, in front of my husband, I want you to tell me," Susan demanded.

Edward remained silent, not entirely sure of how to respond. On some level, he had a desire to reveal the truth, but at the same time, the truth appeared to be so much harsher than deceit. He pondered for several moments, very reluctant to proceed. Numerous recollections poured into his mind, the last one tearing directly, precisely, and violently into his soul.

"Your mother, simply put, was not well. Even before you were born, she showed signs of a curious malady. I did everything I could to cure her, but alas, nothing had any impact. She frequently came to my office, quite often while I was treating Frank Andrews, another patient of mine. Like your mother, he was very sick, but his malady proved to be far more violent, verging on psychotic. While treating Frank, I lost my faith in humanity, as well as my faith in God. Despite my best efforts, he could not be cured. Over the course of several months, she became very close to Frank. Of course, at first, their relationship seemed completely innocent, but eventually, as fate would have it, they became more than just friends," Edward expressed, tears in his eyes.

"What do you mean by that?"

"Must I really spell it out for you?"

Rather unexpectedly, Susan fell to her knees, confusion plaguing her fragile mind. She looked into the water, apathetic towards almost everything else around her, including the very presence of her own father. She planted her fingers in the dirt, still too weak to resist the forces that oppressed her. Edward moved forward, hesitant to disturb his daughter, who appeared to be close to a nervous breakdown.

"Somehow or other, I've always known that I didn't belong to you. Even when I was a child, long before any of this, I never received any love from you. Rather than treating me like a daughter, you treated me like an experiment. You followed me around, always watchful, but never loving," she choked.

"I loved you very deeply, and I still do, believe it or not. Not long after you were born, Frank Andrews died in an asylum, his exact cause of death unknown. If the rumors are to be believed, however, it would seem that he died by his own hand. Similarly, your mother, though she fought bravely, succumbed to the malady that plagued her. Her heart, it seemed, was too weak, not just physically, but also spiritually," he whispered.

"And what does that mean for me? Why am I experiencing these feelings? Every single night, without exception, I've experienced nightmarish dreams. Sometimes, I dream about you, and other times, I dream of spiders. I imagine them on my skin, crawling, slithering, like poisonous snakes, but ten times deadlier. What could that possibly mean?"

"I can't say, really. In ancient Egypt, if I recall correctly, the spider represented dark parts of a person's personality. Of course, not being superstitious myself, I don't take such stories too seriously," Edward stated, caution in his voice.

Just as the last syllable rolled off of Edward's tongue, Susan felt an overwhelming sense of dread, brought on mostly by the incoming clouds in the sky. Although seemingly harmless, they rotated around her, careful not to overshadow her pale eyes. Alongside the trees, various shadows, some of them quite sinister, danced to the rhythm of the dwindling sun. Susan rose to her feet, mere moments from mental collapse. Oblivious to his daughter's emotions, Edward extended his hand, gently touching Susan's shoulder. She remained stiff, motionless, and unresponsive, actions that contrasted greatly with her previous behavior.

"No matter what, you'll always be my daughter. Nothing, not even the universe itself, will ever change that," Edward said.

"It changes everything, actually. My whole life, I've wondered about my past, and until a moment ago, I had no answers, aside from the few that you provided for me. Ironically, now that I think about it, none of it seems to matter. I was always going to end up in the same place, with or without your help. After all, you can't change the past, just as you can't change the future," Susan said, stepping into the water.

"What do you mean by that?"

"If I have to tell you, then it isn't worth explaining," Susan replied.

Almost too discreetly, Susan's feet glided across the water, only making light splashes along the way. She moved in a straight line, impartial to the frigidity of the water. Her ankles, despite being soaking wet, seemed to move with great swiftness. Now low in the sky, the sun trailed behind her, its vibrancy gradually growing weaker. Almost immediately after, darkness conquered the landscape.

Upon reaching the other side of the stream, Susan released a large gasp. She remained still for several seconds, momentarily out of breath. Her mind, paired with her heart, told her to flee from the world, irrespective of the cost. All of a sudden, and without any prior warning, Susan dashed into the perpetual darkness of the forest. She ran beyond the trees, never once looking back. With every proceeding step, the forest continued to close in on her, altogether cutting her off from reality.

On the surface, Edward remained perfectly calm, in contrast with Sam, who rushed towards the foreboding stream. He called out to Susan, shouting into the unforgiving night, but unsurprisingly, his cries were met with complete silence. He trotted forward, adrenaline overtaking every part of his already fragile body. Susan seemed so close, yet so far away. True to his nature, Edward started to trail along behind Sam, but only taking very light steps. Though he tried to deny it, he knew that as long as his daughter remained alive, she could never find everlasting peace.