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Authors: Elizabeth Hand

Last Summer at Mars Hill (41 page)

BOOK: Last Summer at Mars Hill
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“You were not successful.” She towered above me when she stood, the table tilting toward her as she clutched its edge. “Monster.”

“Sacred monster. I thought you liked sacred monsters.” I grinned, pleased that I’d bothered to read her chart.

“Bitch. How dare you laugh at me. Whore—you’re all whores and thieves.” She stepped toward me, her heel catching between the mosaic stones. “No more of me—You’ll steal no more of me—”

I drew back a little, blinking in the emerald light as I felt the first adrenaline pulse. “You shouldn’t be alone,” I murmured. “Does Dr. Harrow know?”

She blocked the sun so that it exploded around the biretta’s peaks in resplendent ribbons. “Doctor Harrow will know,” she whispered, and drawing a swivel from her pocket she shot herself through the eye.

I knocked my chair over as I stumbled to her, knelt and caught the running blood and her last memory as I bowed to touch my tongue to her severed thoughts.

A window smeared with garnet light that ruddles across my hands. Burning wax in a small blue glass. A laughing dog; then darkness.

They hid me under guise of protecting me from the shock. I gave a sworn statement to the military and acknowledged in the HEL mortuary that the long body with the blackened face had indeed shared her breakfast brioche with me that morning. I glimpsed Dr. Harrow, white and taut as a thread as Dr. Leslie and the other HEL brass cornered her outside the Emergency Room. Then the aide Justice hurried me into the west wing, past the pre-Columbian collection and the ivory stair to an ancient Victorian elevator, clanking and lugubrious as a stage dragon.

“Dr. Harrow suggested that you might like the Home Room,” Justice remarked with a cough, sidling two steps away to the corner of the elevator. The brass door folded into a lattice of leaves and pigeons that expanded into peacocks. “She’s having your things sent up now. Anything else you need, please let her know.” He cleared his throat, staring straight ahead as we climbed through orchid-haunted clerestories and chambers where the oneironauts snored and tossed through their days. At the fourth floor the elevator ground to a stop. He tugged at the door until it opened and waited for me to pass into the hallway.

“I have never been in the Home Room,” I remarked, following him.

“I think that’s why she thought you’d like it.” He glanced into an ornate mirror as we walked. I saw in his eyes a quiver of pity before he looked away. “Down here.”

A wide hallway flanked by leaded windows overlooking the empties’ cottages ended in an arch crowded with gilt satyrs.

“This is the Home Room,” murmured Justice. To the right a heavy oaken door hung open. Inside saffron-robed technicians strung cable. I made a face and tapped the door. It swung inward and struck a bundle of cable leading to the bank of monitors being installed next to a huge bed. I paced to the window and gazed down at the roof of my cottage. Around me the technicians scurried to finish, glancing at me sideways with anxious eyes. I ignored them and sat on the windowsill. There was no screen. A hawkmoth buzzed past my chin and I thought that I could hang hummingbird feeders from here and so, perhaps, lure them within reach of capture. Anna had a bandeau she had woven of hummingbird feathers which I much admired. The hawkmoth settled on a BEAM monitor beside the bed. The technicians packed to leave.

“Could you lie here for a moment, miss, while I test this?” The technician dropped a handful of cables behind the headboard. I nodded and stretched upon the bed, pummeling a pillow as he placed the wires upon my brow and temples. I turned sideways to watch the old BEAM monitor, the hawkmoth’s wings forming a feline mask across the flickering map of my thoughts.

“Aggression, bliss, charity,” droned the technician, flicking the moth from the dusty screen. “Desire, envy, fear,” I sighed and turned from the monitor while he adjusted dials. Finally he slipped the wires from me and left. Justice lingered a moment longer.

“You can go now,” I said flatly, and tossed the pillow against the headboard.

He stood by the door, uncomfortable, and finally said, “Dr. Harrow wants me to be certain you check your prescriptions. Note she has increased your dosage of acetlethylene.”

I slid across the bed to where a tiny refrigerator had been hung for my medications. I pulled it open and saw the familiar battery of vials and bottles. As a child first under Dr. Harrows care I had imagined them a city, saw the long cylinders and amber vials as battlements and turrets to be explored and climbed. Now I lived among those chilly buttresses, my only worship within bright cathedrals.

“Two hundred milligrams,” I said obediently, and replaced the bottle. “Thank you very very much.” As I giggled he left the room.

I took the slender filaments that had tapped into my store of memories and braided them together, then slid the plait beneath a pillow and leaned back. A bed like a pirate ship, carved posts like riven masts spiring to the high ceiling. I had never seen a pirate ship, but once I tapped a boy who jerked off to images of red flags and heaving seas and wailing women. I recalled that now and untangled a single wire, placed it on my temple and masturbated until I saw the warning flare on the screen, the sanguine flash and flame across my pixilated brain. Then I went to sleep.

Faint tapping at the door woke me a short while later.

“Andrew,” I yawned, pointing to the crumpled sea of bedclothes. “Come in.”

He shut the door softly and slid beneath the sheets beside me. “You’re not supposed to have visitors, you now.”

“I’m not?” I stretched and curled my toes around his finger.

“No. Dr. Leslie was here all day, Anna said he’s taking us back.”

“Me, too?”

He nodded, hugging a bolster. “All of us. Forever.” He smiled, and the twilight made his face as beautiful as Anna’s. “I saw Dr. Harrow cry after he left.”

“How did you get here?” I sat up and played with his hair: long and silky except where the nodes bulged and the hair had never grown back. He wore Anna’s bandeau, and I tugged it gently from his head.

“Back stairs. No one ever uses them. That way.” He pointed lazily with his foot toward a darkening corner. His voice rose plaintively. “You shared that poet with Anna. You should’ve saved her.”

I shrugged. “You weren’t there.” The bandeau fit loosely over my forehead. When I tightened it tiny emerald feathers frosted my hand like the scales of moths. “Would Anna give me this, do you think?”

Andrew pulled himself onto his elbows and stroked my breast with one hand. “I’ll give it to you, if you share.”

“There’s not enough left to share,” I whined, and pulled away. In the mirror I caught myself in the bandeau. The stippled green feathers made my hair look a deeper auburn, like the poet’s. I pulled a few dark curls through the feathers and pursed my lips. “If you give this to me…”

Already he was reaching for the wires. “Locked?” I breathed, glancing at the door.


Afterward I gave him one of my new pills. There hadn’t been much of Morgan left and I feared his disappointment would evoke Anna, who’d demand her bandeau back.

“Why can’t I have visitors?”

I had switched off the lights. Andrew sat on the windowsill, luring lacewings with a silver cigarette lighter. Bats chased the insects to within inches of his face, veering away as he laughed and pretended to snatch at them. “Dr. Harrow said there may be a psychic inquest. To see if you’re accountable.”

“So?” I’d done one before, when a schizoid six-year-old hanged herself on a grosgrain ribbon after therapy with me. “‘I can’t be responsible. I’m not responsible.’” We laughed: it was the classic empath defense.

“Dr. Harrow wants to see you herself.”

I kicked the sheets to the floor and turned down the empty BEAM, to see the lacewings better. “How do you know all this?”

A quick
as a moth singed itself. Andrew frowned and turned down the lighter flame. “Anna told me,” he replied, and suddenly was gone.

I swore and tried to rearrange my curls so the bandeau wouldn’t show. From the windowsill Anna stared blankly at the lighter for a moment, then groped in her pockets until she found a cigarette. She glanced coolly past me to the mirror, pulling a strand of hair forward until it fell framing her cheekbone. “Who gave you that?” she asked as she blew smoke out the window.

I turned away. “You know who,” I replied petulantly. “I’m not supposed to have visitors.”

“Oh, you can keep it,” she said airily.

“Really?” I clapped in delight.

“I’ll just make another.” She finished her cigarette, tossed it in an amber arc out the window. “I better go down now. Which way’s out?”

I pointed where Andrew had indicated, drawing her close to me to kiss her tongue as she left.

“Thank you, Anna,” I whispered to her at the door. “I think I love this bandeau.”

“I think I loved it, too,” Anna nodded, and slipped away.

Dr. Harrow invited me to lunch with her in the Peach Tree Court the next afternoon. Justice appeared at my door and waited while I put on jeweled dark spectacles and a velvet biretta like Morgan Yates’s.

“Very nice, Wendy,” he commented, amused. I smiled. When I wore the black glasses he was not afraid to look me in the face.

“I don’t want the others to see my bandeau. Anna will steal it back,” I explained, lifting the hat so he could see the feathered riband beneath.

He laughed at that. I don’t hear the aides laugh very often: when I was small, their voices frightened me. I thanked him as he held the door and followed him outside.

We passed the Orphic Garden. Servers had snaked hoses through the circle of lindens and were cleaning the mosaic stones. I peered curiously through the hedge as we walked down the pathway but the blood seemed to be all gone.

Once we were in the shade of the Peach Tree Walk I removed my glasses. Justice quickly averted his eyes.

“Do you think these peaches are ripe?” I wondered, twitching one from a branch as I passed beneath it.

“I doubt it.” Justice sighed, wincing as I bit into a small pink orb like a swollen eye. “They’ll make you sick, Wendy.”

Grinning, I swallowed my bite, then dropped the fruit. The little path dipped and rounded a corner hedged with forsythia. Three steps further and the path branched: right to the
trompe l’oeil
Glass Fountain, left to the Peach Tree Court, where Dr. Harrow waited in the Little Pagoda.

“Thank you, Justice.” Dr. Harrow rose and shook his hand. On several low tables lunch had already been laid for two. Justice stepped to a lacquered tray and sorted out my medication bottles, then stood and bowed before leaving.

Sunlight streamed through the bamboo frets above us as Dr. Harrow took my hand and drew me toward her.

“The new dosage. You remembered to take it?”

“Yes.” I removed my hat and dropped it. “Anna gave me this bandeau.”

“It’s lovely.” She knelt before one of the tables and motioned for me to do the same. Her face was puffy, her eyes slitted. I wondered if she would cry for me as she had for Andrew yesterday. “Have you had breakfast?”

We ate goujonettes of hake with fennel and an aspic of lamb’s blood. Dr. Harrow drank champagne and permitted me a sip—horrible, like thrashing water. Afterward a rusted, remodeled garden server removed our plates and brought me a chocolate wafer, which I slipped into my pocket to trade with Anna later, for news.

“You slept well,” Dr. Harrow stated. “What did you dream?”

“I dreamed about Melisande’s dog.”

Dr. Harrow stroked her chin, then adjusted her pince-nez to see me better. “Not Morgan’s dog?”

“No.” Melisande had been a girl my own age with a history of tormenting and sexually molesting animals. “A small white dog. Like this.” I pushed my nose until it squashed against my face.

Dr. Harrow smiled ruefully. “Well, good, because I dreamed about Morgan’s dog.” She shook her head when I started to question her. “Not really; a manner of speaking. I mean I didn’t get much sleep.” She sighed and tilted her flute so it refracted golden diamonds. “I made a very terrible error of judgment with Morgan Yates. I shouldn’t have let you do it.”

“I knew what would happen,” I said matter-of-factly.

Dr. Harrow looked at her glass, then at me. “Yes. Well, a number of people are wondering about that, Wendy.”

“She would not look away from the window.”

“No. They’re wondering how you know when the therapy will succeed and when it won’t. They’re wondering whether the therapist is effecting her failures as well as her cures.”

“I’m not responsible. I can’t be responsible.”

She placed the champagne flute very carefully on the lacquer table and took my hand. She squeezed it so tightly that I knew she wanted it to hurt. “That is what’s the matter, Wendy. If you are responsible—if empaths
be responsible—you can be executed for murder. We can all be held accountable for your failures. And if not…” She leaned back without releasing my hand, so that I had to edge nearer to her across the table. “If not, HEL wants you back.”

I flounced back against the floor. “Andrew told me.”

She rolled her eyes. “Not you personally. Not necessarily. Anna, yes: they created Anna, they’ll claim her first. But the others—” She traced a wave in the air, ended it with a finger pointing at me. “And you…If they can trace what you do, find the bioprint and synthesize it…” Her finger touched the end of my nose, pressed it until I giggled. “Just like Melisande’s dog, Wendy.

“Odolf Leslie was here yesterday. He wants you for observation. He wants this—” She pressed both hands to her forehead and then waved them toward the sky, the fruit-laden trees and sloping lawns of Linden Glory. “All this, Wendy. They will have me declared incompetent and our research a disaster, and then they’ll move in.”

A server poured me more mineral water. “Is he a nice doctor?”

For a moment I thought she’d upset the table, as Morgan had done in the Orphic Garden. Then, “I don’t know, Wendy. Perhaps he is.” She sighed, and motioned the server to bring another cold split.

“They’ll take Anna first,” she said a few minutes later, almost to herself. Then, as if recalling me sitting across from her, she added, “For espionage. They’ll induce multiple personalities and train them when they’re very young. Ideal terrorists.”

BOOK: Last Summer at Mars Hill
10.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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