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Authors: Daryl Gregory

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 * * *

 

“Have you heard the poem about the dog who had a bone in his mouth?” the bag lady said. She had no shopping cart or bags, but she clutched an oversize vinyl purse the size of an artist’s portfolio, which I decided met the minimum qualifications for the position.
She wasn’t talking to me, and I kept my head down. The concrete bench was cold against my butt and thighs, but I still wasn’t ready to go back inside.
The woman spoke at a notch above normal volume, her words delivered with the overenunciated deliberateness of the borderline autistics I’d met in the hospital. She was impossible to tune out. She wore a red hooded sweatshirt, a blue-striped winter jacket over that, and a long checked skirt over gray sweatpants. The tops of her rubber boots were trimmed with leopard-print fur.
She was addressing a bearded old man who sat at the next bench. He could have been any age between seventy and ninety. He sat like a sculpture, hands folded in his lap, and listened patiently. Seated next to him was a strikingly handsome white woman I took to be his daughter, or maybe granddaughter. She studied a program booklet, though she didn’t look like an academic: long black hair that reminded me of Amra’s before she cut it, tanned legs crossed under a tight skirt.
“It’s a
very
good poem,” the bag lady said. The old man said nothing. The black-haired woman glanced up, then exchanged a look with the only other person outside with us, a man about a dozen feet away. He was a florid, fiftyish man in jeans and a blazer, with boyishly long sandy hair. One hand was jammed in his jeans pocket; the other held both a Mountain Dew can and a lit cigarette. He’d been pacing and smoking, somehow managing to drink and smoke with the same hand. He took a drag from his cigarette, looked at the bag lady, and shrugged.
“The dog came to a puddle and saw his reflection,” the bag lady said. “He looked in the reflection and what he
thought
he saw was a dog with a bone in his mouth, but he didn’t recognize that the dog was
himself,
he thought it was
another
dog with a
bigger
bone in his mouth. So he dropped
his
bone to get the
other dog’s
bone, and lost
his
bone in the water. Now there were
two
dogs without bones. The moral of the story is that the grass is always greener, you see?”
“This is the way of the world,” the old man said. His voice was strangely flattened, like a satellite phone call digitally processed for maximum compression. “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.”
“I’ve read all of Philip K. Dick’s books,” she said. As if this were the natural follow-up to a dog poem. “
Flow My Tears, Ubik, The Owl in Daylight.
I’ve read
VALIS
twenty-two times. I carry the book with me at all times. Look.”
I glanced up. She’d pulled a paperback from her purse. “Would you sign it for me?”
She opened the cover and thrust it at him, inches from his face. He didn’t flinch or pull back. He slowly took a pen from the inside of his jacket, supported the spine of the book, and made a series of curving strokes, finishing with an
X
through the middle. I couldn’t see what he’d drawn, but I doubted it was an ordinary signature.
“Thank you very much,” the woman said, and closed the book without looking at it. “I hope you find Felix. I have to go now.” She turned abruptly and nearly walked into the grille of a cab pulling into the drive. The cab jerked to a stop. The woman paused for a long moment, staring at the driver, and then she moved around the hood, heading for the Hyatt.
I glanced at the old man, and he caught me looking. His eyes were set back into his skull, but they were glittering and sharp. One eye closed, reopened. A wink.
I thought of the Painter back at O’Hare. That same wink.
“A fan,” he said. His lips gravitated into a slight smile, and he seemed to shrug without moving his shoulders. “I have certain responsibilities.”
The cab’s rear door opened, and a dark-skinned man stepped out, hefting an oversize laptop bag. I recognized him from his book jacket photo, especially that expanse of wavy, oil-black hair, just shy of Elvis length.
Dr. Ram strode in my direction, nodding vigorously at something being said by the person who had stepped out of the cab after him. His companion was a priest: a bald head above a clerical collar and a long, black, loose-sleeved cassock.
No, not a priest—or at least not a Roman Catholic one. It was a woman. Her head had been shaved down to stubble, but that only revealed a fine, elfin bone structure: high cheekbones, a pointed chin. She walked with her head bent close to the doctor, matching his intensity. Although Dr. Ram was nodding, they seemed to be having an argument.
I stood up. I hadn’t expected to see him just now, but this was the time to talk to him, before he went to his presentation, before he was surrounded by students and colleagues.
The bald woman glanced at me, but then she noticed the old man on the bench, and stopped. “Hello, Valis,” she said evenly. She sounded Australian, or maybe Irish. Her ears were beautiful.
“Good afternoon, Mother Mariette,” Valis said.
Dr. Ram had already pushed through the revolving door. She followed after him. I hadn’t even moved.
Valis’s friend (son? son-in-law?), still carrying the Mountain Dew and cigarette, stalked over. “What the hell’s O’Connell doing here?” he said, amused. “I thought she retired, became a hermit or something.”
“She’s an exorcist, Tom,” Valis said in his long-distance voice. “One can’t retire from a calling.”
“I have to go now,” I said. “I…it was nice to meet you.”
Valis inclined his head in a nod. The woman smiled and the other man—Tom, Valis had called him—raised his pop can and cigarette in a salute.

 

5

 

Dr. Ram was mobbed before he left the podium. I hung back, waiting for my moment to get his attention, but his admirers—fellow scientists, students, fans?—kept asking him questions, and he kept nodding and answering as he unhooked his microphone, packed up his laptop, and made for the exit. The crowd moved with him, forcing him to go slowly, like a man underwater.
The bald woman that Valis had called an exorcist, Mother Mariette, wasn’t among them. She hadn’t shown up for his presentation.
You didn’t have to be there to know the talk would be a success. Dr. Ram was already a celebrity in the neuroscience world. The field had failed to come up with a hypothesis for possession disorder that would stand up to repeated testing. For the past few years researchers had hung their theoretical hats on linking possession to artificially induced OBEs: out-of-body experiences. Most research teams were looking for a chemical explanation, but then a team from Sweden, during surgery to implant electrodes inside a woman’s skull in order to alleviate her debilitating seizures, had zapped the woman’s parietal lobe, in a structure called the angular gyrus. The woman, who was awake during the operation, reported floating above her body. A few other researchers replicated the experiment, but most groups were constrained by ethical considerations: without some extreme medical necessity, they couldn’t just open up the skull of someone and start zapping.
Dr. Ram had taken another approach, and started running former possession victims through functional MRIs, hoping to see heightened activity in the angular gyrus, or perhaps some deformation in the area that these patients had in common. Perhaps they all shared some mutation that made them prone to possession; perhaps they suffered some damage from being possessed. He examined over eighty possession victims in a two-year span.
And found nothing. Nothing for twenty-four months.
Then Dr. Ram got “lucky.” One of his patients (name withheld, of course) was possessed by the Piper
while
receiving the fMRI. The session went to hell. Dr. Ram never spelled out the details in any of his papers, but somehow he was driven from the room, and a female nurse was “harmed.” Given that the demon was the Piper, everyone understood this to mean rape.
The MRI, however, recorded what had happened inside the patient’s brain moments before he pulled his head out of the MRI tunnel, yanked off the headphones, and started singing. This was the first time this had happened anywhere; MRIs had only been around since the eighties, and demons didn’t submit willingly to medical examinations.
Dr. Ram had posted still pictures and a few mini-movies of the famous scan on his website. They reminded me of the radar weather maps on TV: colorful high-pressure systems of thought rolling over a cauliflower-shaped island, blossoming in reds and yellows and virulent greens. When Dr. Ram finally went back to replay the scan, he was shocked: the parietal lobe and the angular gyrus had stayed dark, but a portion of the
temporal
lobe had lit up like a thunderstorm.
Brain function (or malfunction), Dr. Ram argued, might be able to completely explain the disorder, wresting the disease from the grip of faith healers, Jungians, and UFOlogists. Once you had a way to attack the disease scientifically, anything was possible: demon detectors, unequivocal diagnoses of possession, testable treatments…a cure.
“Dr. Ram.”
He didn’t hear me. I followed him down the hall toward the elevators, persisting even as he shed members of his entourage by ones and twos. One of his shoes was untied, but he didn’t seem to notice.
“Dr. Ram, if you have just a second—”
He glanced at me, then was immediately distracted by a scruffy-bearded man at his elbow. Dr. Ram grunted at something he said, and then the elevator opened and the people around them shuffled forward, and Dr. Ram and the bearded man went with them. Dr. Ram looked up, and waved me inside. I put out a hand to stop the door from closing, and wedged inside.
“Thanks! I enjoyed your talk. I was—”
But the bearded man was still talking, something about calcium channel blockers. We went up.
At the eighteenth floor Dr. Ram stepped out, and the bearded man was still talking as the doors started to slide shut. I abruptly jumped forward, and Dr. Ram’s eyes widened. The doors closed behind me.
Dr. Ram didn’t move. Maybe he didn’t want me to know where his room was. I opened my mouth, shut it. I fought the urge to say, “I am not a stalker.”
“Are you a student of Dr. Slaney’s?” he said.
“What?”
He nodded at my badge. “Dr. Slaney. Or perhaps Dr. Morgan?” His accent was pure California, vowels stretched a bit longer than a Midwesterner’s.
“I want to show you something,” I said. I unzipped the tote bag, flipped through the other pages I’d picked up, and withdrew the fMRI printouts. I held them out to him. “I’d like you to look at these.”
“I’m sorry, I really don’t have time. I have to meet someone…”
I stood there, holding them out to him. Finally he took them.
He looked at the first one, shuffled it to the back, looked at the next one.
“Where did these come from?” he said intently. He studied the first scan again.
“Me.”
He looked up, his expression guarded.
“I’ve been following your work,” I said. “What you noticed about activity in the temporal lobe—you see it there?”
“I see
something.
” He flipped a page, tilted his head. “But even if I take these scans as valid—which I would not—they could mean almost anything. You could have been experiencing fond memories of your birthday, or simply contemplating a new haircut.” He handed the pages back to me, but his voice was kinder. “I know these scans might be alarming to the layman, but heightened activity in the temporal lobe by no means suggests that you were possessed while getting your MRI.”
My cheeks flushed in embarrassment. “I’m not—” I breathed in. “I don’t know how to put this. I’m possessed
now.
I can feel…I can sense this presence inside me. I know that it just
feels
this way, that it’s just a subjective sensation that could be a symptom of the disorder, but—” I smiled tightly. “It’s just that I feel like I’ve
trapped
this thing in there.”
I had to give him credit; he didn’t immediately dismiss me. What I was saying was impossible—no one that I’d ever heard of walked around saying that they’re possessed.
But he thought for a moment, and then said, “What would you have me do about this?”
“I was thinking. If your theory is correct—” I almost ran into a Jurassic-size potted plant, and stepped around it. “If this section of the brain is responsible for possession, then if we disable that section—”
“Disable? How?”
I looked at him. He lifted his hand. “No. No.” He turned and started down the hallway, the laces of one shoe whipping along the floor. I hurried after him.
“At least consider it, Doctor. There are similar operations being done for tumor victims.”
“You don’t have a tumor! I can’t just cut into your brain based on a
theory.
It’s not even a theory, it’s a hypothesis, and an unproven one at that. Maybe, years from now, there will be some surgical option—”
“So you have thought about it.”
He stopped in front of a door. He seemed genuinely angry now. “Young man. No one would do what you’re asking, no respectable doctor. You’re grasping at straws.”
I shoved the papers back into his hands. “Please, just
look
at them. Maybe we’re not talking about surgery; maybe there’s some chemical way to—I don’t know, interrupt the process.”
He shook his head, fishing in his pocket for a key card. “Even if I believed you, there is no way to do what you’re asking.”
“I’m not making this up. Just look at them. My name’s on there, and I wrote down a couple phone numbers where I can be reached.” He looked at his door, then down the hallway, anywhere but at me or at the pages in his hand. “Please,” I said.
“I’m sorry,” Dr. Ram said. “I cannot help you.” He stepped inside and closed the door without looking at me again.
“Liar,” I said.

* * *

Later, my new friend Tom steered me toward the bar.
“Trust me,” he said. “You need another fucking beer.”
“No, I’m okay…”
“Three more Coors Light,” he told the bartender. Then he turned to me. “Seriously, you look like somebody just ran over your cat.”
I laughed, shrugged. “So is your friend really a demon?”
Tom looked back toward the table. We were in a lounge on the second floor of the Hyatt. The place was crowded, half the people in costume. Valis, with his neatly trimmed beard and tweed jacket, looked like an Oxford don. He sat next to the handsome woman—Tom’s wife, Selena. They were surrounded by half a dozen people who had coalesced around Valis in the past hour. Tom had spotted me sitting alone by the bar and had sucked me into their gravitational field.
Tom sighed. “Phil’s had a complicated life. Ever since the stroke—well, even before the stroke, he heard voices. Imaginary friends, you know? Then in eighty-two, the first thing he said when he got his speech back was that we should refer to him from now on as Valis.” He shrugged. “I asked an exorcist to talk to him—”
“Mother Mariette?”
Tom’s eyebrows shot up. “Yeah, that’s right, you saw her! Anyway, she declared him a fake. Valis didn’t jump, he wasn’t in the public record, and it was simpler to say that Phil had finally…well, Phil had taken a lot of medications in his life, and this wasn’t his first hallucination. And frankly, Valis’s arrival wasn’t all bad. Look at him—you can’t even tell that half of him used to be paralyzed. Total recovery. Better than total! He eats better than he used to, he exercises, doesn’t take pills. He lives with Selena and me, but he takes care of us as much as we take care of him. I mean, shit, he’s enjoying himself! He can’t help it. He tries to do the silent Valis thing, but then somebody hits one of his hot topics, and he’s off, man.”
The bartender returned with three tall glasses filled with faintly discolored tap water. We carried the beers back to the table, navigating around bodies, through the smoke. Selena barely seemed to speak, Tom talked constantly, and Valis mostly listened, though when he did speak, as he was doing now, people shut up. A glass of ginger ale sat on the low table in front of him, untouched.
“But you cannot separate science fiction from fantasy,” Valis said, “and a moment’s thought will show why. Take psionics; take mutants such as we find in
More Than Human.
If the reader believes that such mutants could exist, then he will view Sturgeon’s novel as science fiction. If, however, he believes that such mutants are, like wizards and dragons, not possible, nor will ever be possible, then he is reading a fantasy novel. Fantasy involves that which general opinion regards as impossible; science fiction involves that which general opinion regards as possible under the right circumstances. This is in essence a judgment call, since what is possible and what is not cannot be objectively known but is, rather, a subjective belief on the part of the reader.”
There was a slight pause, and then a Hispanic kid younger than me, dressed in a black T-shirt and immaculately pressed khakis, spoke up. “But does it matter what the readers think is possible? It seems to me that it’s how the characters in the novel behave that determines what kind of book it is. A character in a science fiction novel believes that the world is rational, that you can find the answer, the ultimate truth, and goes about finding it. In
More Than Human,
the characters think that they’re the next step in evolution, part of a scientific process—”
“No, it’s the fact that there
is
no ultimate truth that makes it SF.” This from a tall, bony man who looked as old as Valis. He sat on a low chair, his knees at the same height as his shoulders. “You can always ask one more question. But magic is fundamentally unexplainable.”
Behind him, I saw the back of a shaved head, weaving through the crowd. Mother Mariette? I stepped sideways, trying to get a glimpse of her profile. If I could catch her…
“Nobody in a fantasy novel tries to figure out
why
magic works,” the bony man said. “It just does. Jesus turns the water into wine, end of story. In the real world—”
“In the real world most people don’t try to figure out how things work, either,” the Hispanic kid said. “Electricity works by flipping a switch.”
I’d lost her. If it was her at all. I turned back to the group, and Selena was looking at me curiously. I shrugged.
The tall man said, “Yes, most people are philistines. But if they
wanted
to find out, nothing is presumed to be unexplainable.”
A frizzy-haired woman in a peasant skirt said, “Wait,
most
of the important things in life are unexplainable. The soul is unexplainable; demons are unexplainable; consciousness is unexplainable…”
Somebody laughed—the pale young man in the eyeliner and tuxedo shirt leaning on the arm of a chair. “That just means you’re a confused fantasy character intruding in a science fictional world. Most scientists—most scientists at ICOP, anyway—think that we’ll eventually be able to understand all of that. Just because we don’t understand it
now—

“Man in his present state is not able to comprehend,” Valis said in his distant voice. “Or if he comprehends, he is unable to hold on to that comprehension. The Eye of Shiva opens, then closes.” His voice seemed to carry much farther than it ought to at such low volume, like a radio signal catching a lucky bounce off the ionosphere. Or maybe it was just that people strained to hear him. He was famous, he was rich, he wrote books. At least he used to, before he decided he was possessed by a Vast Active Living Intelligence System. I hadn’t read the books, but I’d seen a couple of the movies.
“Okay, so we get maybe one second of total enlightenment, now
that’s
depressing.” I couldn’t see who was talking. “At least in a fantasy novel, everybody gets to
know
the truth. Moral order is restored, the One True King returns, Jesus rises from the dead.”
Somebody else said, “You’re confusing theme with genre.”
“No, he’s talking about destiny,” Tom said. “As soon as you introduce destiny, you’re in a fantasy, even if you dress it up as
The Matrix
or
Star Wars.
As soon as the universe starts responding to you personally, that’s magic—you only get to draw the sword out of the stone if you’re King Arthur—”
“—or Bugsy Siegel,” someone said.
“Yeah, sure,” Tom said, waving him off. “But in an impersonal science fictional world, anybody who knows the trick, the technology of sword extraction, gets to be King of All Britain.”
“Or else you scuba dive down and wrestle the Lady of the Lake for it.”
“‘Strange women lyin’ in ponds distributin’ swords,’” the pale man said in a not-quite British accent. “‘Is no basis for a system of government.’”
The conversation instantly degenerated into a flurry of
Monty Python
quotes, then fragmented into a variety of smaller conversations. The tall man had left with the frizzy-haired woman, but other people joined the group. Tom seemed to know everyone, and everyone at least recognized Valis. The volume of noise and smoke climbed, and it wasn’t just our little band; DemoniCon partiers were descending from all levels of the Hyatt towers. At some point in the night—1 a.m.? Certainly past midnight—I found myself in the john, Valis at the urinal next to me. I was pissing away what seemed to be gallons of Coors Light, amused by the fact that it looked almost exactly the same going out as coming in.
On the wall above the urinal, someone had written DOGMA: I AM GOD.
“So…,” I said. “You piss.” I realized at this point that I was a little more buzzed than I’d thought.
He nodded without turning to face me. “The body has its own imperatives,” he said.
I couldn’t argue with that. Out in the bar, someone shrieked in laughter.
“People don’t treat you like a demon,” I said. “They like talking to you.”
“They like talking to Phil.” He stepped back from the urinal, zipped up, and walked toward the sink. “They prefer to think of me as their old friend who is not gone, but merely gone crazy. It comforts them.”
“Wait—you let them
think
you’re faking, but you’re really…” I processed this for a second. “A demon pretending to be a man pretending to be a demon.”
“Exactly. A fake fake.” He turned on the faucet. Hot only.
I was surprised to realize that I believed him—or at least didn’t disbelieve him.
“Okay, so if you’re really a demon,” I said, “how come you never possess anybody else? Jumping would pretty much settle the matter, wouldn’t it?”
He addressed me through the mirror as he washed, steam rising past his face. The water temperature didn’t seem to bother him. “Divine intervention is not always divine invasion. I have intervened in Phil’s life twenty-two times. Nineteen of those disruptions involved simple transmission of information, compressed into cipher signals that would trigger anamnesis.”
“Say what?”
“Anamnesis. The loss of forgetfulness.”
I blinked at him.
“Total recall.”
“Oh.”
“A few times it was necessary to take more direct action. The first time he tried to kill himself,” he continued in that distant voice, “I seized his body, wrote the emergency room number on the palm of his hand, and awakened him. But the watershed moment came in 1982. Phil experienced a stroke followed by cardiac arrest, his third and most damaging attack. In order to restart his heart and resume blood flow to the brain, I had to seize complete control of biological functions. It was necessary for me to install a holographic shard of my essence.”
“You possessed him.”
He shook water from his hands—two economical flicks of his wrists—and drew a paper towel from the stack above the sink. Outside, someone was shouting, but I couldn’t make out the words. “I continue to pump this heart, to work these lungs. I fear that if I left this body for very long, he would die.”
“Okay, but…” I shook my head.
“Why?”
I laughed. He regarded me calmly, and that only made me laugh harder. “I mean, why not just let him die? It was his time, right? What good are you doing him walking around in his body?”
His head tilted, and he smiled. “That’s the question each of us must ask.”
He pushed open the bathroom door and the noise from the bar rushed in: angry shouts, amused catcalls, drunken hoots. A crash as some very large piece of glass—or maybe a hundred smaller pieces—struck something hard and shattered.
Valis held the door for me. Across the room, a bare-chested man hung above the bar by one arm, legs tucked up under him, swinging from the rack of wineglasses. The rack alongside the short end of the bar had already been pulled down.
The swinging man was clad only in a kind of leaf-covered loincloth. His face was painted red, and little horns protruded from his skull. In his free hand he held a wooden panpipe. At the top of his swing he let go, arced through the air, and came down feetfirst on a round table.
“Time to dance, my revelers!” he shouted.
“Jesus, it’s just like the Olympics,” someone near me said.
It was the same thing the Piper had shouted back in 2002. A Finnish speed skater, Arttu Heikkinen, was on the last thousand meters of the 5000-meter race, half a lap ahead of the nearest competitor, on pace to break the world record. Suddenly Heikkinen slowed, looked around until he spotted the TV cameras, and beamed. The second-place skater started to pass on the outside. Heikkinen tripped him, sending him sliding into the padded walls, and burst out laughing. He ripped his Lycra suit down the middle and let it hang like a half-shed skin. And then he turned in a circle, and commanded the spectators in the arena to dance. Heikkinen never recovered from the shame and never appeared in another race.
Most of the people in the bar were trying to get away now, but others were frozen in their seats. I pushed through the outrushing crowd, bouncing off bodies, trying to get closer. The Piper hopped onto the bar’s yellow chair, and then leaped over the back of a couch, landing next to a red-haired woman. She screamed.
“I…said…
dance!
” the Piper exclaimed. He yanked her to her feet, laughing maniacally. The woman, thin and perhaps forty years old, shook her head frantically, tears already running down her cheeks.
“Hey mister,” I said.
The Piper turned and leered down at me. “Ye-es?”
I didn’t know what was in the glass—water, 7Up, vodka—something clear. I shoved it at him, splashing his face. He sputtered, blinked. The woman yanked her arm free.
“Get the hell out of here,” I said. “You’re not fooling anyone.”
He stared at me. Whatever he’d used to paint his face was running onto his chest in scarlet streaks.
“I said, get out.”
He stepped down off the couch. “Jeez, take it easy. Take a fucking joke.” He slumped toward the open end of the room that connected to the hotel proper. A long moment, and one of the male bartenders ran past me, trying to catch him.
Someone slapped me on the back. Someone else pushed a shot glass into my hand. Tom, laughing. “How’d you know, man? How’d you fucking know?”

“—wouldn’t even listen to me. He just walked away. All I’m talking about is taking down the antenna. There’s some hardware in our heads that’s picking up broadcasts from the All Demon Network, and we just have to figure out a way to pull the plug, or at least change the fucking channel. I’m not even talking about real surgery. We wouldn’t have to even drill into the lobe, you could do it with microwaves, the way they can kill off tumors with these intersecting microwaves, all of ’em too low powered to hurt you except at the exact point where they overlap. Is that so much to ask, to just
consider
it?”
Selena nodded sympathetically. Or maybe she was just humoring me. I chose to take the sympathy.
“You can’t do that,” the Hispanic kid said, interrupting. Who wasn’t Hispanic, it had turned out, but Armenian. “I’ve read about this Dr. Ram guy, and what he’s talking about is cutting out the Eye of Shiva.”
“The whatsis?” I dimly remembered somebody mentioning that earlier.
“The hidden eye that the ancients believed opened them up to God,” Tom said. “In Phil’s terms, it was the thing that allowed him to receive the information that Valis was firing at him. If you look back at—”
Tom suddenly lurched forward, his drink sloshing onto the carpet. A huge man in a T-shirt and cargo shorts had backed into him. “Someone stole my costume! It was right here! Who stole my costume?” He turned, and I recognized the fat man from in front of the Hyatt this morning, the one dressed as the Truth.
“Nobody here, man,” Tom said.
The fat man scowled, then shoved off in a new direction. “Where’s my fucking fedora!”
The Hispa—
Armenian
kid gripped me by the arm. “Del, look at me. Do you really want some quack to cut out your connection to God?”

God
? You think this—you think these things are
God
? Smokestack Johnny, the Piper, the Fat Boy?” I reached for my glass, my glass of brown something. “Then God is a fucking whack job.” I had to concentrate: the tips of my fingers had gone numb, as had my lips, and getting the glass to my mouth involved levels of concentration I usually reserved for winning kewpie dolls with the Claw. Drop a quarter, win a Wild Turkey.
Whose hotel room was this?
“The Eye can destroy, too,” the kid said. “Valis says that the carrier signal is also harmful radiation. Maybe some people can’t
handle
the information when it hits them. These deviants get overridden by the purity of the info-stream.”
“We should go,” Selena said.
“Or maybe that’s the real message getting through,” Tom said. “Shiva’s two-sided, man—protector of the weak, but destroyer of the wicked. If you try to shut that down, you’re removing the divine essence from humanity.”
“Divine essence?” I said. “Hey, I’m Fat Boy, I’ll possess a guy and make him eat ten pounds of chocolate at one sitting! Yeah, that’s divine, that’s fucking deep, that’s like…” I couldn’t think what that was like. It was like something, though. “All I’m saying, we shouldn’t have to live in fear like this. I mean, Christ, ever since Eisenhower’s assassination, the Japanese have been treated like dogs, and the president
still
can’t appear on live television—everything’s a fucking tape delay! And the Secret Service guys are standing by with tranqs in case he gets all Nixon on them!”
“Nixon wasn’t possessed,” somebody said. “He was just crazy.”
“All I am saying—”
“Is that we can’t live like this,” the kid said. “But we can. We
do.
Even the Israelis get back on the bus.”
“We should go,” Selena said again. Not just for the second time—she’d been saying it since Valis left an hour ago, escorted by a trio of young people.
“Let me get one for the road,” Tom said. He pulled another Coors Light can from the case, then took something from his pocket—a flap of vinyl. He wrapped it around the beer, transforming it into a publicly respectable Mountain Dew can. A RePubliCan.
“You know,” I said, struck by a brilliant thought. “If you poured the beer out now, and replaced it with Mountain Dew, then you’d have a fake fake.”
“You don’t say,” Tom said.
“A Valis Special!”
Selena said, “You’re not driving anywhere, are you, Del?” I shook my head vigorously and waved good-bye.
Sometime later I looked around and realized I didn’t know the name of anyone in the room. Even the Armenian kid had vanished. I left the party and started looking for a way up to my floor. I passed a sandwich sign announcing possession movies playing in a ballroom—
Omen, Being John Malkovich, Fail-Safe, 2001: A Space Odyssey
—and veered toward the doors, but then I saw the bank of elevators and corrected course. A door opened and a bunch of us pressed inside. “Eighteenth floor,” I said. A minute later the elevator hissed open like an airlock, and someone behind me tapped me between my shoulder blades. That bit of kinetic energy sent me slowly drifting down the hall.
My vision had tunneled down to the wrong end of a cheap telescope: everything was too small and too far away. I drifted down to my door.
The key card eventually appeared in my hand, a clumsy magic trick. I slid it in, slid it out, slid it in again…Door sex. The red light blinked at me, refusing to turn green. I grabbed the handle, stared into the bubble lens of the peephole. The thing in my head stomped and rattled. Open the pod bay doors, Hal. Open the fucking—
I leaned back from the door, squinted at the number.
This wasn’t my floor. But I’d been here earlier; I’d walked past that prehistoric-size plant…
Oh, right. Dr. Ram.
Dr. Fucking Ram.
The demon thrashed in my head. I was crashing. Lucite banks of processors began to shut down in my brain, one by one, overwhelmed by alcohol and demons.
Daisy, Daisy…
Then I remembered the chains. I couldn’t be wandering around like this. Had to get them chains.
I turned, unsure now which way led back to the elevators. The hallway stretched into the distance, door after door after door, the infinite regress of a mirrored mirror.

BOOK: Pandemonium
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