Face of Madness - Blake Pierce


Zoe let her eyes drift to the familiar, well-worn arm of the chair. The leather was cracked in different directions from the grip and trace of many hands and fingers, a fact that used to make her mind go into overdrive, making calculations and tracking patterns. Her special ability, the power to see the numbers in everything around her, had so often been a hindrance rather than a help. But now, looking at the leather, she was able to see only a chair and not an equation.

She looked away, still focused on the moment and the question at hand. “I am looking forward to tonight,” she said, smiling at Dr. Lauren Monk, her therapist. The woman had changed her hair recently, cutting in a dark fringe above her dark eyes, and it suited her. She looked five years younger.

“Tell me about your plans,” Dr. Monk said. Her head rested at a tilt on one of her hands, and she was studying Zoe closely. Zoe couldn’t help but notice that her notebook had remained closed for the duration of the session, and the pen dangled loosely in her hand.

“I am doing something I have never done before,” Zoe said, feeling the flush of excitement color her cheeks slightly. “A double date. John and I, along with Shelley and her husband.”

“You feel that you’ll be able to thrive in this situation?”

“Yes.” Zoe nodded her head, knowing it was the truth. Not only because of Dr. Monk’s help, but also because she had come to trust John, after dating him for months. Shelley, her partner at work, had also proven time and again that she could support Zoe whenever she needed it. “The exercises you gave me have been keeping the numbers down. I don’t think I will be overwhelmed. Not this time.”

Dr. Monk’s lips quirked upward briefly as Zoe spoke, as if she’d heard something that made her extremely happy. She had a beauty mark half an inch above the right edge of her mouth, and it jumped up too. With a flourish, she set her notebook aside firmly on the table, setting the pen on top of it neatly. “Zoe, I’m going to say something, and please don’t take it the wrong way,” she said. Her expression was all captured mirth, as if she didn’t want to reveal how happy she was. “I think it’s time we stop seeing one another.”

Zoe raised an eyebrow. “You think I should see a different therapist?”

Dr. Monk laughed. “No, Zoe. What did I say about taking it the wrong way? I don’t think you need to see a therapist at all.”

“We are… done?”

Dr. Monk nodded in confirmation. “You don’t need me anymore.”

Zoe cast her eyes around the room that Dr. Monk employed for her therapy sessions: the certificates framed in black wood on the wall, the bookshelves full of psychology books, the potted plant in the corner. A sudden pang of nostalgia hit her, something that she didn’t often feel as an FBI agent—always in one place only for long enough to not yet be used to it before the case was done. It was the sensation of leaving a place for the last time. “What if I start to lose control again?”

Dr. Monk leaned forward, placing her hand on top of Zoe’s where it rested on the arm of the chair. “If you ever need me again, all you have to do is pick up the phone and make an appointment. You’ll always be on my patient list. But this is our last regular session.”

Zoe nodded, letting it wash over her. She was done with therapy. No longer needed it. It had been a long series of months sitting in this chair, and she had put a lot of work into trying to change. Hearing that she had at last been victorious was really only confirmation. She knew, as she looked inside herself, that she had conquered the worst parts of her mind, tamed them and trained them.

She cast her eyes around the room again, a little self-test. The numbers were still there, whenever she wanted them to be. She could know at a glance that there was one fewer book on the shelves—perhaps Dr. Monk had taken it down to read or given it to someone for study. She knew the bookshelves were seven feet tall, and that Dr. Monk probably had to stand on something to reach the volumes at the very top.

But when she looked again, concentrating this time on staying