Tunnel Vision


His world was a thin sliver of reflection. He could only see the mirror, as a plastic cage squeezed his head so that he couldn’t move. Lying on his back he faced upwards, but his view was of his feet. The angled mirror allowed him to see out into the white room.

“You alright in there, Mr Ionnides?”

The woman’s voice came over the headphones jammed on his ears.

He presumed it was rhetorical; there was no way for him to answer her. The top of her head bobbed up and down beyond a large window on the far side of the room. It looked as though she was at a computer.

She looked up and smiled at him. She seemed a world away, and he felt disoriented. It was as if she was both above him and across from him at the same time.

“Remember you can press the button if you get into trouble.”

He fingered the device in his left hand. He supposed it was reassuring, but he felt that he wouldn’t need to use it. This whole MRI thing was turning out to be a breeze.

He had been to the doctor only the week before. On giving him the list of his symptoms, he had expected a quick diagnosis of acute migraines. That was what all his friends were telling him that they were, anyway. A numbing of his right hand that soon went away. Then a visual disturbance would creep into view. It was like looking through drops of swirling oil. And then the pain.

“Just to be on the safe side, we’re going to send you for an MRI,” the doctor had said. He must have looked startled, as the old man had hurried on. “It’s probably nothing, Alex. But when there’s tingling hands and headaches involved we had better be 100% sure.”

His best friend Judy had then proceeded to inform him of the horrors involved in having an MRI.

“It’s really claustrophobic. You sit on a metal tray thing, and they slide you inside of this gi-normous machine. You’re held down with straps so you can’t move or the pictures they take would end up all fuzzy and shit. But the worst thing is the noise. Loud thumping bangs all the time you are in there.”

So, he was a little nervous by the time he arrived at the hospital. He asked directions to the MRI lab at the front desk. A porter informed him to follow the yellow line painted on the floor. “If you reach Psychiatric you’ve gone too far,” he had said. Alex had grinned to himself, hoping that it wouldn’t come to that.

Nurse Hanover had met him in the lab’s reception area. Her cheerfulness put him at ease straight away. “Please call me Gillian. Just doing your head today, is that right Mr Ionnides? No need to get fully undressed then. Just leave your jacket in the changing room.”

She had taken him through the proceedings with practised efficiency. She places a set of headphones over his ears. They were already playing a Beethoven piano concerto. There was a small moment of panic when she placed the plastic cage over his face. It seemed too tight as she pushed it hard into place. It was necessary, she explained, as his head could not move during the scan. Then she had pushed a button and he had slid into the belly of the machine.

Alex stared up at the small mirror. The white cylindrical walls of the tube framed the image. He could see his feet at the end, but he couldn’t work out how much of his body was inside the tube. Nurse Gillian’s voice broke through the music in his ears again. “OK, Alex. We’re ready to start. Thirty seconds of noise now.”

Thump thump thump thump thump…

The loudness startled him. Even with the protection of the headphones, a deep sonorous banging filled his head. It drowned out the music, and he began to relax. It stopped after the prescribed time, jarring him back to the present.

“Now about eight minutes,” Nurse Gillian said in his ears.

Thump thump thump thump thump…

It was faster this time, and he soon felt himself drifting off again. Was it womb-like, him being so completely cradled and unable to move? And the machine’s heartbeat was overpowering. He wondered if he could move his head at all, but stopped himself from trying. He might ruin the scan and incur the wrath of the good nurse.

Thump thump thump thump thump…

His eyes fluttered closed. The ever-present noise kept him from falling completely asleep. Disjointed dream images filled his mind. He lost track of the time, dozing in the cradle of this unfathomable machine. And then it stopped. The banging was gone, and he came awake into his locked down and limited world.

He looked up at the mirror, expecting more instruction from the next room. The nurse was still there, sat down at her station. The angle of view allowed him to see only the top of her head. Her prim ponytail swung into sight as her gaze shifted from one thing to another. She stopped what she was doing, and looked to her left. A door had opened into the control-booth, its back resting against the window. He thought at first that she was talking to another nurse or a doctor. Her head had risen, and the top of her mouth moved as if in conversation. Her forehead creased in a frown, and she turned from the door back to her desk. She picked up a phone and began to make a call. He was about to close his eyes again when a hand appeared from behind the open door. Its fingers curled around the edge as if their owner was trying to pull themselves inside. And like a stalking cat, the visitor came into view. His face appeared first, unshaven and wrinkled. A mop of greying hair stood up from his forehead as though shocked to attention. Even from his distant and prone position, Alex could see the blank look on the newcomer’s face. The ancient head turned this way and that as he moved further into the room. He was wearing a hospital gown, and a plastic I.D. tag adorned one bony wrist.

A patient?

Still turned away from her visitor, the nurse did not notice his advance towards her. Alex watched as the scrawny arms stretched out, reaching for the back of her neck. He had a moment of disbelief as the patient told hold of her forehead from behind. The wrinkled fingers yanked her head backwards.

Was he dreaming this?

Both Alex and the Nurse now shared expressions of upturned terror and surprise. Then the cracked and dirty fingernails bit into her skin. Alex could tell that she was screaming. Sinew and muscle stood out on her attacker’s limbs. Alex watched the man strangle her and his brain finally caught up.

“Shit shit shit…”

His body tried to react now. His legs thrashed around, banging into the walls of the MRI tube. His arms slapped at the smooth cylinder, trying to find something to grab on to. At the same time, he was involuntarily trying to sit up, but the cage around his head stopped any movement. His neck muscles strained as they tried to pull his skull free of the thing, but it did not budge.

And all through this his view of the world was a fixed rectangle floating above his eyes. In it, he could see the dying woman through the gap between his flailing feet. He couldn’t even look away, let alone help her or raise the alarm. The old man pulled her to a semi-standing position, still wringing her neck from behind. She faced the window towards the MRI, and her eyes pleaded with him through the glass. A gaunt, jaundiced face appeared beside hers, and a large tongue pushed out of its cracked lips. It slathered up and down her ear and moved along her jawline.

He was tasting her!

Then she slammed forwards. Her nose crumpled squirting blood to either side. Finally, Alex had to close his eyes. His heartbeat drowned out the piano sonata now playing in his ears. He panted like an animal, panic seizing him by the balls. His neck muscles cramped, and he forced himself to calm down. He concentrated on slowing his breathing. As he regained control, he realised he had been punching away on the emergency button the whole time.

He stopped himself from clicking at the thing. It would only be signalling the nurse’s station, not anywhere else. He realised with dread that the only person he had been alerting was the psychopath next door.

His eyes flew open. The nurse was now gone from the window. A trail of smeared blood down the glass marked her exit. Behind this stood the mad-man. He held up a hand to his forehead as he tried to see into the room with the MRI.

Alex began to panic again. The creep must have heard the noise from the emergency button. And here he lay, all trussed up and waiting to be butchered; a psycho’s free-lunch. He had to find a way to escape this wretched machine. He watched the monster in the tiny mirror for any sign that he had been discovered. The old face there held rheumy eyes set back inside folds of wrinkled skin. But such eyes. They stared through the glass, wide, and without any kind of emotion. Dead eyes, Alex thought. The eyes of death himself.

When it came, the movement was quick. He sprang to the side with a gleeful vigour. Yanking open the door again he disappeared through it. Alex’s stomach sank in a wash of sour adrenaline, and panic took control one more. His arms twisting, he clawed and slapped at the sides of the tube, trying to move the tray-table he was lying on. When that failed, he shuffled his buttocks down as far as they could go, trying to dislodge his head. His exertion left him panting, and he stopped cold when he realised he had not been listening to the room. Had he missed the sound of the door opening? Was the killer already in here with him?

Thump thump thump thump thump…

For a moment he thought the MRI had turned back on. But there was a different quality to the sound. Someone was banging on the outside of the machine.

He froze in terror.

Prey caught in a trap.

Thump thump thump thump thump…

There was the smallest of giggles. It was an insane sound, and Alex tried to cry out. He produced a loud groan that squeezed out between rasping breaths.

All he could do was watch the mirror. There was no more thumping, no more sounds of any kind, and he existed in a limbo of horrified anticipation. When would the haggard face of the madman appear at the end of the tube? His breaths became shorter and quieter as he tried to make as little noise as possible. His fists clenched against the side of his body, his bladder and bowels loosening. The ends of his legs felt exposed, and he tried to draw them up inside the tube. There was a snort of breath on his right calf, and then his ankle was given a long, slow lick.

Alex screamed.

The face appeared and moved into the gap between his legs. He screamed some more as he saw the look of death in the eyes of the man, and the wry smile on his lips. He watched in disgust as a thread of drool emerged from his mouth. Between his screams, there was time to be amazed. There wasn’t enough room. Even so, the creature was making his way inside the tube with him.

Alex closed his eyes and clamped his mouth shut. For a while, he drifted away from reality, unhinged and carefree. But he was flung back from this bliss by the touch of a tongue against his chin. He smelt the fetid breath of death’s kiss upon him. An intimate whisper tickled the skin of his ear. Just three words:

“It’s your turn…”

Alex screamed some more.