This installment of Preludes of the Return, of the Crimes of Heaven and Hell, by Carl R. Moore, is intended for mature audiences only. Reader discretion is advised.
Canto I: Delusion
Oren Brantley exited his car, clicked the lock, and opened his umbrella. The clouds were unleashing a heavy March downpour. Between his raincoat, galoshes, and the umbrella, he was a walking shield. He entered the hospital with his suit still dry, a portrait of professionalism. He was technically a student, ABD and not yet holding a license in clinical psychology. Still, he knew appearances mattered.
“Yes, I’m Oren Brantley,” he said to the receptionist. “Doctor Johnston’s arranged for me to meet with a patient, Room 14B?”
The receptionist nodded, handed him a pre-printed badge. The guard who led him to the elevator was a burley man, premature gray in his dark curly hair. Too many night shifts at the Melkor Institute, and since it was six o’clock, this one was just starting.
“Two doors down on your left,” said the guard when the elevator opened. He didn’t bother stepping out.
“I was under the impression a staff member would be present during the interview,” said Brantley.
“Frakes’ll be in restraints,” said the guard. “And Grunbeck’ll be nearby.”
The door closed, Brantley turned and faced a man wearing a white jacket over scrubs. The jacket hung open, revealing a black, radio-like device belted to his hip. Between the crew cut and the gym physique, he looked more like a commando than a nurse. Brantley didn’t miss a step. He moved down the hall, entered the second door on the left. Grunbeck took up position outside. “I’m here if you need anything,” he said. A head taller than Brantley, his eyes stared past him as he spoke.
Inside the room, Brantley took a seat opposite the man in the restraint chair. It had been wheeled to the corner furthest from the window. The shades were drawn, what was left of the day’s dusky light leaving most of the man’s face draped in shadow.
Brantley placed his computer on the side table provided beside his folding chair. The room was otherwise empty, and he realized that when the sun had fully set, the glow from his display and the scrid of light beneath the door would be the only illumination.
“They said I didn’t have to talk to you,” said Frakes. “But they also said it might help me.” His head was crooked, jaw slack. The contour of his hair was puffy enough to look freshly washed, but he’d already sweated off his shower, and an acrid smell rose from beneath his bathrobe. “They always want me to get dressed,” he said. “But it doesn’t matter. I explain, but they don’t listen how it doesn’t matter.”
As he spoke, Brantley set his recording app to track one. “How long have you been at Melkor?” he asked.
“Seven thousand years,” said Frakes.
“According to the records it’s been a little over one year.”
“They don’t keep records,” said Frakes. “Not of anything important.”
“Indeed, well, if you don’t mind then, we’ll get started.” Brantley touched record and spoke: “Interview with Lee Frakes, March twenty-second, 2036. Mr. Frakes, in the interest of time, I’d like to go straight to discussing your dreams. Are you comfortable with that?”
“No. But I agreed to it.”
“I see. I’m sorry. Do you need a moment?”
“No,” he said, his chest hiccupping down a short burst of sobs. “No, ask what you want.”
“Let’s start with when you began having them. You were working as an engineer then? Engaged to be married?”
Frakes’s chest erupted again. His hand reached upward, forearm rising the few inches off the chair the restraint would allow. His palm wavered, as if pushing something in the air. “I don’t want to start there. It doesn’t matter. You came here for him, anyway. Isn’t that right? For him?”
“I don’t understand, who are you talking about?”
“The one who takes me there.” His hand began pointing, finger jabbing the air.
“Who takes you?”
“The veiled man.”
“And where is there?”
“It is a place beyond the sun. A place called Hell.”
“Your body actually goes there?”
“Yes, you think I am sleeping on that cot. On that bug infested cot. But I am taken away, through the darkness. Outside the hall, outside the nurse’s station, and the cafeteria, and the lot, there is a darkness I fly through. Because of the veiled man, who wants to show me what it’s like when I get dead.”
As Frakes rambled, Brantley took out a notepad and began writing: Obsession with location – repetition – phrasing almost childish.
“Don’t bother,” said Frakes. “They won’t care soon. Eventually they’ll even close the hospital. But that’s later.”
Drool flowed from Frakes’s lip, through his black stubble. He squirmed in his chair, but the restraints held him fast. Brantley looked him in his watery eyes. “Melkor has been here for decades. It has a long list of patients including you, not to mention a sound financial standing. So no, the hospital isn’t closing.”
“You… you don’t under… understand…” Frakes’s body contorted. His limbs strained against the straps. Bones cracked in his neck and knees, he screamed with a voice hoarse, then high pitched.
“I’ll call the nurse,” said Brantley, standing and moving toward the door.
“No, it is not necessary. I am here. You may begin.”
“The Intercessor. I am here.”
Brantley looked at Frakes as he returned to his chair. His face appeared calm, and he no longer struggled. His eyes looked darker, his stare penetrating, one side of his mouth curled into the hint of a grin.
“Are you the veiled man?” asked Brantley.
“That’s what the bloodheart calls me. More accurately, I am a type of spiritual guide.”
“Like a priest?”
“Please. Doctors, professors, it’s all a priesthood. But I am no priest. I advise you, bloodheart, do not mock us. You deal here with an intelligence.”
“You said us this time.”
“There are many of us, though I alone am assigned to Frakes.”
“Assigned, who assigns you?”
“You wouldn’t understand. Not yet. Let me instead tell you about his so-called dreams. He is telling you the truth—he is not in fact dreaming, but being transported.”
“51 Pegasi B, as your scientists call it. Molten iron rains from its putrid clouds. It falls on the faces of the damned, scalding them. Faces scalded by molten metal. We wish for him to feel as he deserves, as most humans deserve to feel.”
“So when you said Hell, you meant in the religious sense? A bad place people go when they die?”
“Pegasi B is one of the Hell planets. A few go there, for it is remote. You are lost, bloodheart human. You cannot imagine what it is like crawling over its surface, your body burning and burning and remaining conscious.”
“I thought you said Frakes was dead when he was there.”
“He is dead. You are all dead, and yet some of you think you will prefer it, those of you thrown in Hell.”
“Why? It doesn’t sound like something anyone could possibly want.”
“Oh but it is. You understand nothing of what is coming to you, priest. Hell is coming, and do you know what else? Something worse is coming, something you cannot wish away, though many will attempt, hence this warning.”
“Mr. Frakes, I’m not a priest. I am the one who erroneously called you a priest.”
“And I told you, as a doctor, you come much closer to that office.”
“Technically, I am not a doctor yet. Since you seem to care for accuracy, you may call me Oren, or Mr. Brantley, if you prefer.”
“I call you damned. I will see to it you are ranked among the priests, when this article is published, that it may strengthen our warning.”
Brantley paused. For a moment he wondered how he had known the article would be part of his doctoral thesis. He felt a chill, but shook it off. Given the circumstance, and the level of the man’s delusion, it wasn’t a difficult guess. Still, something didn’t sit well. The way his face changed when he had become the veiled man, his obsession with priests. It felt more like an exorcism than an interview. But not an exorcism—the reverse, like it was Frakes who was trying to get under his skin.
“Are you some kind of demon, veiled man?” asked Brantley.
“Demon?” Frakes laughed. “We are not demons. Hell is coming, and something worse. And we are not demons, no, we are something else, Father Brantley.”
To be continued