May looks up from the pale-yellow flyer in her hand to the non-descript building in front of her. There’s no sign hanging anywhere saying what’s inside. It’s just a tidy, two-story brick walk-up with a blue door and two large-paned windows flanking each side. To May, it looks like someone’s residence, not a business. There are no other private businesses anywhere else along the street, no sign that anyone actually lives around here, either.
It’s an abandoned stretch of road with the brick building here and a convenience store a block or so away, empty lots, and patches of grass stretching out between them. No cars anywhere, either. But what does she know? Maybe this guy runs his business out of his home and he just lucked out on not having neighbors. There were weirder stretches of property in the city that May had been to, ones that gave her bad vibes or scared her enough to never want to go back. This place doesn’t give her the chills like those places. It just looks like a normal old brick house in her opinion.
She sighs and kicks her foot against the sidewalk, considering. Should she really go inside? It was a longshot that he would even be able to help her. The flyer had said Consultations Given About Any Problems Plaguing Your Mind, but what did that even mean? Was this guy a psychiatrist? If so, that was a really weird way to drum up new business. Besides, May didn’t need another one of those. She needed someone who could actually fix things for her, not just give her mindless platitudes about positive thinking and changing her habits.
May had spotted the flyer halfway through her usual walking route through the park last Thursday. It’d been stepped on a few times, so it was in rough condition, but it still proclaimed it could do for her what no one else could. The guy’s name had been too badly stained for her to read; around it the flyer said Visit Mr.— At Your Convenience along with the guarantee about the consultation and the listed address May was currently standing in front of. She’d put the flyer in her bag and let it sit there for a little over a week before determining she should go, just to see what it was all about.
What was the worst that could happen, anyway? She’d go inside and find out that whoever this guy was couldn’t do anything for her, and then she’d go back home, no harm no foul. She’d be disappointed, sure, but not any worse off than before. And anyway, May always carried mace in her purse, so if he tried anything funny with her, she’d be fine on that front, too. She knew how to take care of herself, for the most part, but lately…well, there’s a reason she hadn’t immediately thrown the flyer away once she read what all it had to say.
May walks up the three stairs to the front door and raises her hand to knock. A small sign in the right window that she hadn’t noticed before catches her eye and she pauses. Walk-In Clients Please Enter. Bell Broken. Her hand drops back to her side. Should she just…go inside? Without knocking? The sign instructed her to, but that seemed weird. Anyone could just walk right into this guy’s house and he wouldn’t know they were coming. There wasn’t even an intercom to announce her presence or anything. Wouldn’t it be normal to just knock if the bell was out of order?
What if she was a burglar or a murderer or something? All she would have to do is be really careful and quiet and she could sneak up on whoever this guy was, knock him out or kill him, take all his valuables, and no one would ever be any the wiser. There wasn’t even a security camera out front. Not that May would do any of that, of course, but still. Mr. Consultant should be way less cavalier about his safety.
She reaches out and turns the doorknob, surprised it’s unlocked even though she shouldn’t be. The sign had said to come right in, of course it wouldn’t be locked. Unless he wasn’t consulting currently. But then the sign would be taken down, surely? May shakes her head and pushes the door open, tired of questioning every single little thing. That was why she was here, after all.
A little bell tinkles softly as she pushes the door in. Ah. Well at least he has some measure of security. May peeks around as she steps fully into the foyer of the building. No knickknacks out of place, no dust or cobwebs, no real sign of use. No music playing or chatter on phones or paintings on the cream painted walls. It’s just an open hallway with a staircase directly opposite the door and a red runner going down the middle of the hardwood floor to the left, deeper into the house. The light from the two windows makes everything seem slightly ethereal since the overhead lights are so dim. Like the whole place could flicker and disappear if she looked too closely at anything.
“The door to your left, if you please,” a pleasantly soft voice says from the same direction the runner was going in.
May readjusts the bag on her arm and follows the runner down the hall and through the doorway on the left-hand side. The lighting in this room is strange, too. A huge window sits across from the door, letting in the bright morning sunlight, but backlighting everything else and making it all seem darker, slightly sinister.
There’s a huge wooden desk in front of the window, looks like it’s made of old oak or something, and a man sitting behind it. May looks around and sees shelves lining the walls, full of things, maybe books too, but May can’t really read any of the titles. They seem to be in some sort of foreign language. She looks back and squints, trying to make out the features of the man sitting behind the desk, but that’s hard, too.
“Uh, hello. I’m here for the consultation? My name’s May.”
“Hello Miss May. Go ahead and take a seat. My name is Mr.—”
May coughs suddenly and loudly, slaps her hands to her mouth in mortification. She looks at the consultant apologetically, but he just has his head tilted to the side and a hand gesturing out to the seat in front of his desk. May feels too silly to ask his name again, so she just shrugs and takes the plush armchair, sinking into its depths.
“Uh, I’m not sure if you can actually help me, but the flyer said something about problems plaguing your mind?” May feels stupid even saying it, but he’s the one who wrote it, so he’s the one who should feel foolish and not her. She’s just repeating what he promised.
“Of course, Miss May. Please, tell me what’s going on and I’ll see how I can best help you today.”
He leans back in his chair, hands seemingly moving in front of his face, but all May can see is his outline filled in with shadow. Why would he put his desk in front of such a big window when he knew so much light would come in? Was his job shifty or something, so he had to keep people from seeing who he really was? Plausible deniability?
May blinks. “Ah, sorry. Got distracted. Actually, that’s what I’m here about.”
“Yeah, well…The thing is, I can’t stop thinking?” May scratches at the seam in the armrest with her fingernails, a nervous habit she’s never been able to break, no matter how many times she tried to meditate or work on mindfulness.
He lets out a soft hum. The sound somehow makes her shoulders relax a bit. “Would you mind elaborating?”
“I can’t stop my thoughts running in circles, you see. I’ve been on anxiety medication and anti-depressants and anti-psychotics, more pills than I can list, but nothing seems to be able to stop the thoughts constantly running through my head. I question everything, I second-guess myself, and everything I see and hear. At night, I can’t fall asleep because my thoughts are so loud. Even sleeping pills only work to a certain degree. But it’s a constant murmur in my head, always going on about everything. Nothing’s worked, no one can tell me what I should be doing to stop it. So. That’s my problem in a nutshell.” May tacks on an awkward little chuckle at the end of her word-vomit, but it peters out quickly.
“I see. Well, Miss May, that certainly is a conundrum.”
May bites at her bottom lip now she’s let it all out, scratches at the seam even harder until her nail catches and snags. The sharp burst of pain makes her look down at her finger with a wince. When she looks back up, the consultant is leaning forward and she can see the finer aspects of him, now.
She can see one particular detail, anyways.
The smile, oh god the smile. There is just something…wrong about it. The teeth are just too straight and too white and too big. Teeth that big shouldn’t fit in a person’s mouth. And too many of them are revealed when the smile stretches, like his mouth is crammed full of those perfect, white teeth, more than any one person should ever have. It’s unnerving, that smile. It makes a small part of May’s mind remember that predators show their teeth to display aggression.
It keeps drawing her gaze, to the point where she can’t remember what the rest of his face looks like, even though she keeps looking back at it, eyes roaming all over his features. Just that bright, dazzlingly white smile. It’s so disturbing.
And yet…it’s compelling, too. May feels herself sitting forward in her seat, closer to the desk and that smile. She can’t tear her eyes away from it; it’s like she’s being sucked into its orbit. Even the ever-present voices in her head are quiet, for once, unsure what to say in the face of that smile.
“I truly do think I can help you with your problem, Miss May,” she watches his mouth say. His lips pull back while he talks, so he’s displaying that smile even as the words come out. She’s never seen someone do that, before.
May only notices he’s pushing something across the desk to her when it bumps against her hands. She hadn’t even felt herself moving them away from the armrests when she’d leaned in closer. She glances down briefly. The word Contract is written in fancy cursive script at the top along, with a bunch of paragraphs full of tiny words and a line with an x at the bottom. A pen appears at the top of the contract, held between two long, white fingers. She can’t help the way her gaze drags back up to that hideous smile.
“Just something I require all of my clients sign before I begin working with them. Standard procedure, of course. You understand.”
His teeth aren’t overly sharp, and not a one of them is out of place. It’s like they were put in there by a sculptor, but they look too real to be fabricated. Worn thin at the top like they’ve been overly-used. May can’t look away from them. They move up and down as he continues to speak and she imagines him eating, crunching and tearing and shredding with those pearly-white shards of bone and May suddenly can’t stop thinking about skeletons with their terrifyingly wide smiles, perpetually grinning once they’re all that’s left.
May doesn’t realize she’s already signed her name, pen squeezed tight in her hand as she continues watching the smile. Her finger still hurts from the snagged nail and she can feel blood sliding down from the torn skin, but she can’t tear her gaze away to look at it, to see where it falls.
“Thank you, Miss May. Now, let’s see about making those thoughts go away for good, hmm?”
The smile gets wider and wider and all May can see is white, white, the yawning void of white everywhere, consuming everything.