Clarice looked into her mirror, saw nothing staring back at her, and tried to convince herself she was sane.

Her efforts were not aided by the fact that she was in an asylum. Though she had been let out of the padded room, her new room had few comforts and no sharp edges. The straitjacket still pinned her arms against her body. It bound her tightly except for around her chest, because Ferdinand… but no, she didn’t want to think about that. Better to focus on her sanity.

It had been a year since her family had decided that she was inconvenient and sent her here. In the beginning, she had been certain that the doctors would soon discover that she had full command of her senses and send her back. That had been before the frowning doctors, before Ferdinand had touched her, before her mind and body had been through so much…

Before the nothingness in the mirror. Clarice couldn’t help herself and her eyes wandered up toward the mirror on her wall.

She strained to see herself, to see if she had changed more. Could this be one of his tricks, to keep her from having a view of herself? Before the mirrors had started going blank, she had watched her once slim body become increasingly voluptuous, contorted to his desires by the rituals. She had thought she was pretty before, but now… Clarice stared where her reflection should be and strained her eyes, not wanting to see how she looked now and yet desperate for it…

For a moment she did glimpse herself, but not the young woman she hoped she still was. There had been a glimmer of herself with her arms unbound, but far too long and ending in claws. Her jaw had hung slack and filled with several rows of teeth, and her eyes…

A moment later the vision was gone, and she was staring at the nothingness. Everything in the room reflected just as it was in reality except for her. Instead there was a terrible, weighty nothingness that floated where she should have been. The sensation had been getting stronger lately and she found herself wondering if she truly was going mad.

While she stared, the nothingness shifted. A shimmering oval appeared, barely visible and yet as undeniable as the nothingness. Clarice stared despite herself and realized that it was a mask. A mask made of perfectly clear glass, only visible as the light caught it, yet…

A mask of her face.

Clarice shuddered and threw herself back, her head hitting the wall behind her. The blow made her vision swim and sent pain through her body, but it didn’t make the mirror return to normal. In fact, the weight of the emptiness seemed to be pressing down on her now, and the mask was drawing closer.

The lock on her door clicked and all at once it was over. The mirror reflected nothing but her, eyes wide and bloodshot. She looked mad, but she was sane. She had to be. Being kept here all day might have been driving her a little mad, but all it took was the door opening to bring her back to reality.

For a few heartbeats, she hoped that the visitor would just be one of the nurses. They came to bring her food occasionally, and some even loosed her jacket to let her eat for herself. But she heard the tenor of his voice, saw his shadow as he entered the room, and knew that it was Doctor Ferdinand.

“Hello, Clarice.” He had such a soft, gentle voice. Clarice shrank down into the corner beside the door before he could see her, before those dulcet tones could capture her mind. “How are you doing today?”

As soon as he stepped inside, she launched herself at him. Clarice had no clear plan in mind, knew that he could overpower her even if her arms were free, she just wanted to hurt him. Hoped that she could get her teeth into his body. If she bit into his ear, she could tear it off, she would…

Bite his ear affectionately, maybe run her tongue over it or just whisper loving nothings. She couldn’t remember why she had been upset, but it was likely because of his long absence. A calm smile spread over her face as Ferdinand turned to face her and she heard the gentle ticking.

He held the metronome in his hands like it was an instrument of his trade, but it could never be mistaken for anything of the sort. The device was strange and misshapen, bulging with strange tentacle-like strands. And the pendulum that swung back and forth… it was pitch black, as if a strip had been torn from the world and there was absolutely nothing beyond.

Clarice stood and watched it swing back and forth peacefully. It ticked with each movement, the gentle sound soothing her mind. When she heard Ferdinand chuckle, only a small part of her shuddered in horror. The rest looked up to smile at him.

“Hello, Master.”

“You will call me ‘Doctor’ today, pet. We are going to visit some very important colleagues of mine, so you will need to be on your best behavior.”

“Of course, Doctor.” Her body automatically straightened and squared her shoulders as well as she could in the straitjacket. When he controlled her like this, she felt little emotion. It was far preferable to the warm rush of emotion when he made use of her body.

“This way, Clarice. Don’t delay.” Ferdinand left the room, hiding the twisted metronome again. She followed silently, the sound still ticking peacefully in her mind. Now that she had seen her Master for who he truly was, she would never attack him. While her world was filled with this bliss, she knew only the joy of serving him.

Her Master only came to her for two reasons: to make love to her or to ask her for help in his rituals. The majority of Clarice loved both equally, so long as she was being of use to him. A small, miserable part of her was glad that today would be a ritual. No amount of cutting from the knives or shame of being shown to his “colleagues” could compare to the sweet pleasure of his gentle touch…

While walking, a shudder ran through Clarice’s body and she nearly stumbled. She had no idea why she might have felt such a thing, not when she was so near Master. Ferdinand… no, Master… turned toward her and frowned. He fiddled with the metronome under his coat, then just shook his head.

“Hurry along now.”

Free from distracting thoughts, Clarice drifted happily after him as they entered the unused wing of the asylum. A locked door marked as a supply closet opened to reveal a staircase that descended deep into the ground. Her little-used legs soon ached, but Clarice continued on with a placid smile. At the bottom she found the familiar sacrificial circle, surrounded by Master’s friends.

Though one or two wore the formal black robes of their order, most dressed as they did in real life: respected doctors, lawyers, heirs to great estates. Men who spoke of things far too important for her ears, who deserved to have pets like her. Clarice smiled happily at the thought, though of course she loved Master most of all.

“Raise your arm, pet.” His hand slid along her arm and she shuddered with joy, happy to raise it for him. Master was speaking, but she couldn’t understand his worlds, just listened to his soft voice as he raised the ornate knife and explained what he was doing to the others.

Eventually the knife did cut into her arm, drawing her blood. It ran from her freely, pooling in the small bowl that seemed to be made from bone. Clarice stood with a smile on her face, trying to focus on the images carved on the walls around them. Such funny images, with strange tentacles reaching over everything…

“Strip and lie down on the altar.” No matter how far her mind wandered, a command from her Master cut through her reveries. Clarice smiled and quickly moved to disrobe and lie down on the twisted altar in the center of the circle. Though the ritual was different every time, there were always similarities. Besides, she was obeying Master.

Finishing his ritual, one of the men reached down into the bowl of blood… and withdrew something dark and twisting. Even through her happiness, Clarice flinched slightly. That creature had not existed a moment ago, and it should never existed at all. Even the men who had come here for the very purpose of performing these dark rituals looked at it with some distaste. The man held it at arm’s length as he moved closer to her and Clarice tried and failed to focus on his face.

Soon all she could see was the small twisting creature… and then it dropped. It hit her stomach and immediately burrowed into her flesh. Clarice screamed and her entire body arching off the stone, her mind burning with twisting black pain.

As the creature expanded inside her, tearing and chewing and consuming, everything was stripped away. The happiness fled like mist under the sun. Though this was a terrible, unholy sun, she welcomed it. All the men around her were just men. Especially Ferdinand – he was only her “master” when he used that subtle metronome to control her.

Though the pain went on for a long time, eventually it ceased. It always did. They needed her, after all, and though the lives of young women were cheap, they could not afford to simply discard her after so much work. She collapsed back to the altar, trying not to focus on the awful mass crawling out of the gaping wound in her stomach.

She could feel it burn like acid as it crept out of her, but strangely, that burning was also what saved her. Though her insides should have been shredded and she should have lost enough blood to kill her through the gaping wound in her stomach, that wound… no longer existed. There was a strange purple scar there, seeming to pulse faintly, veins reaching deeper into her body.

Had it ever been that way before? Clarice had endured many other rituals, but between the agony and the joy, it was difficult to remember details. She didn’t think there had been any ritual like this before, but others had given her wounds that should have killed her. Yet even with those, she didn’t remember the injury healing like that…

The mass that had crawled out of her had been split open by Ferdinand and the other men. They began murmuring excitedly as they extracted what they wanted. At first she couldn’t focus, it just looked like a twisted mass. Then suddenly it was familiar: it was another metronome.

Ferdinand set his own down on the table and set the pendulum rocking back and forth. Another pendulum had been attached to the second metronome, but they seemed out of sync and there was no sound within her mind. Still, he didn’t seem at all upset.


“You see? No obstacles remain to the original ritual.”

“They still aren’t connected,” another man objected.

“Give it a moment of time. The slime hasn’t even cooled.” Ferdinand did bend down and poke at the pendulums, a slight frown on his face. Another man shook his head and scowled.

“I still think we should have made her birth the thing. More proper that way.”

“Oh, but I would never want to ruin my dear pet’s pussy.” Ferdinand looked down at her with a smile that made her shrink away, but she was exhausted. There was nothing she could do as he reached down, ever so gently, and caressed her lower stomach. His fingers slid lower until they slid inside her, drawing a whimper from her. It was worse than when the creature had been tearing apart her insides.

Jerking away from him, Clarice tried to curl up against herself. But at that moment, both pendulums began to tick. The sound was even louder than before, as if the two were resonating, and soon it filled her entire mind. She lay on the altar with her eyes blank, barely even able to think.

So the purpose of the ritual had been to create another one of the metronomes. Their power had increased, and no doubt they would ensnare other girls. She heard them say as much, laughing and congratulating one another on their success.

And why shouldn’t they? A soft smile spread over Clarice’s face as the ticking of the metronomes reminded her that all was good and right in the world. There was no more pain in her stomach and she saw no need to look down at the injury. All she needed to do was enjoy how happy Master was and wait for him to command her again.

Eventually he did, ordering her to dress and return to her room. She happily went with him, glad that she had been of service to her Master.

Every mirror they passed on the way back, Clarice set her eyes forward and refused to look. She was sane, after all. There were no masks staring at her from the other side.




Clarice lay on her side like a rag doll, staring at the wall a few inches from her eyes. Though they didn’t have her in the straitjacket then, that was only because it was pointless. After experiencing a ritual like that, she would be too weak to attempt anything for days. Which left her to simply lie there and thinking about what had happened to her.

Yesterday Ferdinand had made use of her body again. As usual, she moaned and leaned into his touch and told him how much she wanted to worship him, while part of her watched from a cold and distant place. That place was growing smaller, she feared, as her mind gave out. That was why she didn’t flee the pain of the memories – in fact, she grasped at them.

When the ticking faded from her mind, the disgust flooded back. Gone were the days when she had felt shock at what had been done to her. No, she was so soiled now that no one would ever want her. But her mind was overwhelmed by disgust for the person she had been while she was controlled.

More than that, she was filled with disgust for Ferdinand, and a seething rage that choked out every other emotion within her. She wasn’t sure if he actually believed that she loved him, or if he knew it was false and just didn’t care. Sometimes she wondered if he even knew himself. It didn’t matter what the answer was, she felt nothing but contempt and repulsion for him. Raw, black hatred swelled up within her and-


It could almost have been her own mind. The word was quiet and somehow within her, yet too alien to be her own thoughts. Was she hearing voices now? Had she finally cracked completely?

Yet when Clarice forced herself to sit up, she saw what she had known would be there: the nothingness had collected within the mirror. She could see the glass mask now, and it seemed as though it was staring directly at her. For a moment she opened her mouth, then she shut it tightly.

“I’m not going to talk to you.” Clarice pulled her legs up onto the bed and wrapped her arms around them, facing in the opposite direction. She might be hearing voices and seeing things, but she refused to play their games.


This time she was listening more carefully and she could tell that there was some intonation with the voice. It didn’t sound angry or hurt, just… uncertain? Curious? Ambivalent? None of those words felt quite right for the neutral regard it extended toward her. Even though she wasn’t looking, she could still feel it, the intensity of the emptiness pressing against her.

“I…” Clarice took a deep breath, but it was too late to deny the thing now. “You’re probably another trick. Another effect of the metronome. He wants me to talk to you, or start trusting you, or… or… or something! Whatever it is, it will just make him control me more.”

We do not understand.

Despite herself, Clarice looked over her shoulder. The mask in the mirror betrayed absolutely nothing, of course. Regardless of if it was a hallucination or what, it just floated like an ordinary object. She glowered at it, which did no good at all. Less than no good, if her theory was correct.

“You don’t understand? What is that supposed to mean?”

That got her a long pause and Clarice thought she almost sensed confusion. The mask floated backward… she realized that it was getting closer to her position in the room, but too late to do anything about it. When the glass neared her in the mirror she was frozen in place, then it touched her and there was a rush of thoughts and memories.


Without warning Clarice was lying on the bed. She lay sprawled as if she had fallen, and her eyes refused to stay still, instead darting around the room. It only came back to her gradually… the thing on the other side had touched her mind.

And it had been nothing like the metronome, nothing at all. It had simply reached into her head and rummaged around, without the slightest hint of subtlety. Clarice was left stunned, yet strangely, she didn’t feel violated. The being only wanted information, and if it didn’t care about her, that also meant that it didn’t care enough to hurt her.

But she wasn’t sure that it was actually apathetic. Her sensation of it had been at a distance, as if she was being held at arm’s length. She thought the mask was just that, hiding whatever the thing really was. Its true nature… what could it be? It seemed curious, and it was focused on her… something about it was familiar, too… could it be?

There is much we do not understand. This world is difficult.

“What exactly are you?”

Speaking does not come easily. Using words from your mind… a spirit? A lost one? The memories of the dead? The eldest become youngest?

“Truly?” She hadn’t wanted to hope, but Clarice found herself sitting upright and staring into the mask. “Are you… a spirit that I know? One that’s come to help me?”

Our understanding is not formed enough to answer such questions.

“You do seem young and confused. Could… could you be my child?” The first time she had gotten pregnant, she had been glad to feel new life growing within her. She thought it might have been the metronome controlling her, but she didn’t care. For a time, she hadn’t been alone.

And then Ferdinand had done some terrible ritual to end the life of the baby, months before it was her time. She had been blank and smiling the entire time, and her memory of the ritual was still hazy, but she was sure that it had been killed. Sacrificed to some horrible ritual. They had spoken of its soul being sent to another plane, but she hadn’t dared to hope?

Could this thing be her child’s spirit? That might explain its confusion, why it-

No. That does not seem correct.

Though the voice sounded uncertain, it still shattered her fantasies. In an instant, Clarice realized how foolish she had been. Even accepting all these mad rituals, her idea made no sense. She was just so desperate for some scrap of hope that she was seeing connections where none existed. Perhaps that was the first step to growing mad in truth.

She struck the bed with a fist and then threw herself down, feeling miserable and wanting nothing more than to cry herself to sleep. Yet the thing didn’t leave, and its presence was troublingly intense. Even with her face buried in the stiff pillow, she could feel it bearing down her. After a moment, Clarice looked back up and scowled at the mask.

“Fine, then what are you? Or just tell me what you want and be done with it! Stop staring and just explain yourself.”

That is difficult. Your understanding of the world is broken and inadequate.

Clarice sniffed. Her reaction was a little absurd, and that in and of itself made her feel better. If this was a trick, it was nothing like any previous trick. And if she was going mad, she could think of worse ways. “My deepest apologies for being uneducated. I’d meant to study more, but there is this whole matter of being locked in an asylum.”