Martie Rhodes helps her friend Susan Jagger, who suffers from agoraphobia, attend visits to psychologist Dr. Ahriman. Martie's husband, Dusty Rhodes, tries to help his brother Skeet, by providing employment in his painting business. Skeet was in rehab for drug use, and when he first appears in the story, he is high and tries to commit suicide by jumping off a roof. Dusty decides to take him back to rehab due to drug overdose.
Martie suddenly develops a mysterious case of autophobia, fear of oneself, and returns home to find herself frightened by her own reflection. Later, her condition worsens, and soon she becomes afraid of pointed objects, although she is actually afraid of the harm she might cause with them.
When Dusty leaves Skeet at the rehab center, he notices a shadow lurking in his brother's room window. From this point on, strange things begin happening to both Dusty and Martie, involving Skeet, Martie's autophobia, and hypnotism.
The couple eventually discovers that they've both been progressively brainwashed and programmed to obey Dr. Ahriman, a sexual psychopath who drugs and indoctrinates his patients, then either repeatedly rapes them or orders them to commit murders or suicide for his amusement. Dr. Ahriman orders Susan to commit suicide by slitting her wrists after discovering that she videotaped him having sex with her. The doctor has also programmed Skeet, which explains his inability to fully recover from drug use and distorted thinking. Dr. Ahriman establishes control, sending patients almost instantly into a detached state of consciousness by stating a name and then reading them a short haiku. He tries to justify this by stating that, by ordering certain patients to commit horrific crimes—mass murders, bombings, random shootings—he can force legislation in order to make the world a "better place."
Dr. Ahriman is eventually killed by another patient, who had a fear of Keanu Reeves, based on his character in The Matrix . The woman believes that Dr. Ahriman is one of the Machine agents trying to control her. Dusty and Martie, receiving a substantial inheritance from Martie's friend Susan, slowly begin to restore their shattered lives.