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Authors: Daryl Gregory

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BOOK: Pandemonium
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* * *

I described the crash at a level of detail between what I’d said to my mother and what I’d said to Lew and Amra. Smashing
through
the guardrail, yes, flipping and crunching to the bottom of the ravine and almost drowning, not so much.
“And the noises started again,” she said. That’s what we’d called them in therapy, too—the noises. She’d immediately noticed the parallels between the crash and my swimming pool accident, and leaped to meet me. I’d forgotten how quick she was, how in sync we could be. It was like we were picking up where we left off years ago.
“When did they start?” she asked. “While you were in the ER?”
“Faster this time. I was still in the car when they started.”
She pursed her lips. “So how are you handling it? Are you using your exercises?”
“I’ve tried them.” I’d worked with Dr. Aaron for months before she taught me something that could smother the sensations in my head. The exercises were mental plays I could enact. The one that worked best was one I called Helm’s Deep. My mind was a fortress, and the noises—the pounding, the shaking, the metal-on-metal rasping—were orcs coming over the walls. All I had to do was knock them off the parapets. If they kept coming, I just had to back into the keep and seal the door. And if they came through the door, I retreated to the caves. Yeah, it was cowardly, but there were no frickin’ elves to help me out. And it had worked—until now.
I ran a hand across my neck. “The door’s closed, but I can still feel them.”
“How are you getting through the day?”
I laughed. “I don’t know. I can’t just ignore it—sometimes it’s the loudest thing in the room.”
Loudest
was the wrong word, but she knew what I meant. “I’ve learned to not respond, at least in front of people. I keep my face blank; I try not to wince when it startles me. I just…concentrate on what people are saying. And I keep nodding.”
“That must be incredibly tiring.”
I laughed, ran a hand across my mouth. “You have no idea.”
“The Nembutal…are you using that to help?”
“During the day? No. That’s just to help me sleep. I mean, I can sleep most of the time, it’s just that sometimes I can’t sleep. Look, I know you’re worried about the pills—”
“Nembutal’s a heavy-duty barbiturate, Del. They use it to knock people out before operations. It’s heavily addictive, and a hundred milligrams isn’t far from overdose territory. You have a few beers when you take one, and you could end up like Marilyn Monroe.”
“I’m not about to get addicted. Trust me, that’s not what I’m worried about.” I lifted my hands from my lap, dropped them. “Doctor. Do you think possession is real?”
“Of course.” She tilted her head. I remembered that gesture from our sessions. “Del, I know you’re not making this up. And neither are the thousands of people who’ve been affected by it.”
“That’s not what I mean. Not possession the disorder. Old-fashioned possession. Do you believe you can be taken over by some outside force—some god or demon or whatever—or do you think it’s all just…delusions of delusional people?”
“No one knows, Del. What matters is—”
“Just tell me what
you
believe, Doctor. Yes or no. Are people just going crazy, or is it something else?”
She frowned, seemed to weigh her answer. “I think that yes, there are people who are psychotic, or who have multiple personality disorder, who also say that they’re possessed. There are even people who aren’t psychotic who want so badly to be possessed, or want to explain some past trauma, that they convince themselves that they were seized by some higher power. I’m not talking about people who fake possession—there’ll always be people who’ll use the O. J. defense. But there are people like yourself, Del, who don’t
want
to be possessed, and who aren’t liars and aren’t ‘crazy.’ The Jungians—”
“Oh God, not the Jungians.”
“There’s a reason eighty percent of psychotherapists are Jungians. The idea of the collective unconscious, continually recurring archetypes, the nonphysical independence of the soul—all that makes a lot of sense given the evidence. There are so many cases of possession where the victim displays knowledge or skills that they don’t have access to, like seizing control of a plane, opening a bank vault. The literature is clear, and the Freudian explanation for possession just doesn’t stack up, in my estimation. All these possessions can’t be just the expression of the victim’s innermost drives.”
“Well, there’s the Piper. He looks like pure id.”
“But that’s an archetype too—the satyr.” She waved her hand. “We’re getting off track. You want to know what I believe.” She leaned back in her chair, crossed her hands in her lap. “I’m not a Jungian, and I’m not convinced by the Freudians. I don’t subscribe to any one theory—for me, the jury’s still out. There’s definitely scientific evidence to suggest that the disorder is not entirely triggered by internal factors.”
“‘Not entirely.’” I laughed. “You mean it may not be all in my head.”
She smiled. “The important thing, Del, is that I believe in your experience. I believe that when you were five years old you lost control of your body. Does that mean you were taken over by some vodun spirit or a Communist telepath or an archetype from the collective unconscious? I don’t think so. But there are plenty of smart people who believe that’s exactly what’s going on. My own hope is that someday we’ll discover that there’s a biological trigger to possession—something viral, or genetic, or bacteriological—something we can fight. We already know that a few of the victims are Japanese, a few are girls, but the overwhelming majority are white men and boys—in America, anyway. Some are possessed repeatedly. Maybe there’s a genetic predisposition that’s triggered by something in the environment, some stressor, and that we can take steps to inoculate ourselves against. In fact, there are some researchers coming to ICOP this week—that’s the International—”
“The conference on possession. I’m going.”
“You are?” She frowned in confusion, then understood. “That’s why you came back this week.”
“There’s a neurologist I want to talk to, Sunil Ram. From Stanford?”
“I’ve heard of him.”
“Let me show you something.” I got up and retrieved several folded papers from my jacket’s inner pocket. “These are just copies, but I thought you might be interested.”
She took them from me, and slowly paged through them. “These are MRIs of
your
brain, I presume.”
“My doctor back in Colorado Springs did several fMRIs while I was staying at the hospital.”
She looked up sharply.
“I’ve annotated the interesting bits,” I said, moving on. “Do you know Dr. Ram’s theory about possession? Look at the right temporal lobe.”
She was looking at me with concern. She glanced at the pages again, then handed them back to me. “Del, I’m not a neurologist. Why don’t you tell me what you think they mean.”
What you
think
they mean.
I folded the pages again. “It doesn’t matter,” I said. “It’s just a theory. Everybody’s got a theory, right?” I put them back in my jacket pocket, pulled the jacket on.
“Del, were you hospitalized?”
“I was getting to that.” I didn’t move from the door. “I was in for two weeks, which coincidentally, was exactly as long as my insurance paid for.”
“Please, sit down. Tell me what happened. Why did your doctor suggest that you be hospitalized? Did you try to hurt yourself?”
“No. Yes.” I shook my head. “I didn’t try to overdose, if that’s what you’re getting at. That’s not why he had me committed.”
She waited.
“If I tell you something, you have to promise not to do anything about it.”
“Del, I can’t promise something like that without knowing what you’re going to tell me. Are you afraid I’m going to commit you?”
I put my hand on the doorknob. “I need an answer on the prescription.”
She blinked slowly. “I can’t just write you a prescription for a drug like that, Del. Sit down and talk to me. If you can explain to me what’s going on, and I’m convinced you’re not a danger to yourself or others, that might be a possibility. You’re a strong person. If you tell me you’re in control, I’ll take you at your word.”
“I’m in complete control,” I said. “Almost all the time.”

* * *

I’d walked halfway back to Randhurst Mall before Lew coasted up beside me. “Hey good lookin’, be back to pick you up later.”
Cars queued up behind him. No one had honked yet. I climbed in. “I need a beer, an Italian beef, and a beer.”
“You know what would be good with that? Beer.” He punched the accelerator, burping the tires, and then braked to a halt fifty yards later at a stoplight.
He looked over at me. “If this is what therapy does for you, sign me up.”
“Where’s Amra?”
“Shopping. There’s this place called the Container Store that sells—”
“Lingerie?”
“Fish, but good guess. And Mom wants us to pick up groceries.”
“Can you drive me into the city tomorrow?”
Lew stared at me. “Why don’t you take the train?”
“I don’t want to schlep my stuff through train stations.”
“What, your one duffel bag? You are such a wuss.”
“A
wuss?
You still say
wuss?
The light’s green.”
He rolled through the intersection, but the traffic ahead of us wasn’t moving. “What are you going to do in the city?”
“I’m going to see some people.”
“What people? You don’t have any people.”
“The Art Institute, then. Where are you going? You missed the turn.”
“Nonsense. I have an unerring sense of direction.”
“I’m driving on the way home.”
“This car? Not a chance, Delacorte.”

* * *

There was a strange car in the driveway—a dark blue Buick that looked freshly polished. We parked on the street. Lew opened the Audi’s trunk with his remote (“Because I can”), and we carried the grocery bags into the house.
A man sat at the kitchen table across from my mother, his back to us. I didn’t recognize him at first, but then he turned and smiled broadly. “Well look who’s here,” he said.
“Hi, Pastor Paul,” Lew said.
The man pushed himself out of his seat. He was dressed in khakis and a striped golf shirt, his brown leather shoes too dressy for the rest of the outfit.
My mother stayed seated, her face pleasantly blank.
He came to me first. The groceries made a hug impossible, thank God. I shifted the bags slightly and held out a hand. He clasped my hand between his own. “Del, Del, Del.” He slapped the back of my hand, then gripped my shoulder. “I can hardly believe it. You look just like your father.”
I hadn’t seen Pastor Paul since my father’s funeral. My mother had stopped going to church when I was small, but my father had put on his suit every Sunday, dragging Lew with him. I stayed home to watch TV. I was jealous of Lew, but he begged to stay home so often that I knew I was getting the better deal.
I suddenly remembered a show I used to watch. It only played on Sunday mornings, and it was called something like
The Magic Door.
The magic was all done by green screen: a live-action guy with a guitar and a weird cap—an acorn?—who was magically shrunk down to the size of animal hand puppets. The guy would go through a door in a tree and come out in this magical forest, and sing songs where half the verses made no sense to me. It wasn’t until high school that I realized it was a program for Jewish kids, and the mini guy was singing in Hebrew.
The pastor moved on to Lew, giving him his own hearty handshake. I remembered that aggressive enthusiasm. I never went to Sunday school, but I’d gotten to know Pastor Paul from his frequent visits. He’d arrive at odd times—the middle of a Saturday afternoon, or an hour after supper—and my parents would have to drop what they were doing and make him coffee. If I wasn’t around he made a point of asking for me, and Dad would make me come in from the backyard. Pastor Paul always made a big fuss over me, asking me how I was doing, telling me how much I’d grown, even if I’d just seen him the week before. He was big into tousling my hair. He was a tousler.
“So what have you boys been up to?” he asked. “Your mother says you’ve moved out west, Del. Colorado. I hear it’s real pretty.”
“In the dark, it’s a lot like Illinois.” My stock answer.
He nodded, not really hearing me. “Those mountains are beautiful.”
Lew put away the groceries while the pastor and I talked about nothing. Most of the nothing was handled by Pastor Paul. Whenever I started to answer a question or make a comment, his attention seemed to immediately move on to the next thing he was going to say.
After five minutes he announced that he had to be going, and five minutes later he announced it again. We gradually made our way to the front door, where he pulled on his elaborate winter coat and talked some more as he zipped, buttoned, snapped, and cinched. He pumped my hand again. “I’ve thought a lot about you over the years,” he said. It was almost exactly what Dr. Aaron had said. “I’m glad to see you doing well.”
I almost laughed at that.
He clapped me on the shoulder again. “I swear, you look just like your father. He was one of the ‘Chosin Few,’ you know. Not many men survived that battle.”
“That’s true.” I didn’t know what else to say to that. I don’t remember my father talking about Korea.
“I always said, he was the one you wanted behind the wheel of the bus in a snowstorm.” He nodded. “Well, I’ve got to be going.”
I stayed on the porch, getting colder in the breeze, as he finally climbed into the Buick. I watched him pull away and then shut the door behind me.
“I don’t like that guy,” I said.
Lew laughed. “Pastor Paul? Come on, he’s a nice old man.” Mom shook her head, frowning. “What?” Lew said.
“How often does he come over?” I asked.
She shrugged, and carried the coffee cups to the sink. “Once a month. Maybe every few weeks.”
Lew laughed. “Hey, he got the hots for the Widow Pierce?”
Mom gave him the look that Lew and I called the Brush-Back Pitch.
I followed her. “What’s he want? Do you
like
him visiting you?”
“Not particularly.”
“Then why do you put up with him?”
“He’s just doing his job.”
“What job? You’re not even in the congregation anymore. Is he trying to get you to come back?”
“Oh no.” Her voice was hard. “I’ll never set foot in that church again.”
I looked at Lew. Lew looked at his hands.
“Oh, and your friend Bertram called,” Mom said. Her voice had shifted instantly back to normal. “He said he really needed to talk to you.”
“Bertram?”
I hadn’t spoken to him since the nuthouse. How the hell had he gotten this number? Maybe the slans had beamed it to him.
“He said he really had to talk to you. I wrote his number on the fridge calendar.”
“Mom, listen, if he calls again, just tell him I’m not in, okay?”
Mom gave me the Brush-Back Pitch (which Lew enjoyed—we were tied now at one apiece). She wasn’t going to lie to anybody.
“Did you remember the sour cream?” she said.
Lew was already heading toward the door.

BOOK: Pandemonium
13.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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