Preludes of the Return, Canto I: Delusion (Part 2)

Canto I: Delusion (Part 2)

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.

“You need to stop referring to me as a priest.”

“But Father, we call upon you in these wretched times.”

“Stop, if you wish this interview to proceed.”

“But Father, you are forgiven. Your transgressions with the whore do not disqualify you for your office, nor your degree.”

Brantley leapt to his feet, upsetting the desk, sending his computer clattering across the floor. Frakes was laughing and drooling in front of him, alternately hiccupping and yanking at his restraints. “What’s the matter? You want to hit me? Go ahead… or unstrap me first, if you’re man enough.”

Brantley turned, wiped the sweat from his forehead and picked up his computer. “No… no I think we’re done for today,” he said. “But we’ll talk again, I hope.” He’d had a momentary lapse, he thought. He had to remember he couldn’t let this kind of talk get to him. It was just the sort of thing that could raise questions about his doctoral candidacy, let alone his license. Protocols were of the utmost importance.

He kept this in mind as he left the room and approached the drill-sergeant of a nurse. If he had addressed it before, he might not have gotten the interview. An immediate reaction might have come off as pandering and untrusting of the institute’s professionalism. Yet to ignore it completely was even riskier.

“Excuse me, do you have a moment? I had a question.”

“Of course,” said the nurse.

“I couldn’t help but notice the use of the restraint chair. To my knowledge it’s against regulations, is it not?”

“We deem it necessary in rarified circumstances.”

Brantley paused. Grunbeck locked his hands behind his back, displaying the device on his belt. Was it really a radio? If he didn’t know better, he’d call it a taser.

“Do you mean Doctor Johnston deems it necessary?”

“Not exactly,” said the nurse. Brantley could see his ample biceps flex as he spoke.

“Then who?”

“The Institute defers to my judgment in these matters. If that’s all for today, Mardens will escort you out.” Grunbeck motioned to the gaunt guard who’d escorted him in, who was already waiting at the end of the hall, beside the open elevator.

* * * * *

When he reached his apartment he brewed a pot of coffee and headed for his study. He was about to sip from his mug when his phone chimed a message. Missed call from Lana. She hadn’t bothered him in two months and here she was hitting him up, two messages he saw, asking if he wanted a date.

There were plenty in his profession who’d logged far worse offenses. Often in the form of an affair with a student—he knew several candidates in his program who’d had flings with mentors and done little to hide it. So what if he’d given in and paid for sex a few times in his life? He’d broken up with Bree just after entering the program. Spent a year celibate, had one brief fling during a summer that ended badly. The life of the PhD candidate had loads of hidden challenges, solitude not the least among them.

He stood, crossed the room, and fingered the curtain to the side. With the setting sun, the March downpour had turned to snow. The streetlights glowed among the falling crystals and the dark branches of still leafless trees. He saw her standing beside an oak’s thick trunk, body pale and twisted. Her eyes drew black circles into her cheeks, conflation of fatigue and bruises. When she smiled, her fake teeth matched the snow, dentures because meth had burned the rest.

She twisted to the side, offering a musculature made of ashes. She looked back over her shoulder, the way she did when they screwed. She cracked a grin that mixed “Come and get it,” with “Hurry up and finish,” like only one who lived from selling their body could.

“That’s the difference between us,” she’d said once as she was getting dressed. “You’re a student, I’m a pro.”

“Damn it,” he said, scrunching his eyes shut, swiping his fingers over his temples.

It was her voice, yet he knew it wasn’t her speaking. That’s what was eating at him, the madman had known about what he had done. There were things a sociopath could guess, and those which were impossible. Frakes was trying to melt into his brain, assault his rationality, and it was working. He had to refute it, had to keep his head.

When Brantley opened his eyes, Lana was gone. A twisted stump stood by the oak, a young maple ruined by lightning.

There’s nothing there, he thought. And nothing to Frakes’s words. Guesswork in a salad of ramblings. He knew the phenomenon and had to not let it be anything more.

What he did have to make more of was the state in which he’d found the patient. Frakes had no record of violent behavior. He had threatened plenty, a website inviting those who heeded his manifesto to set fire to every capital city in the United States as a wake up call to “what was coming”. But he’d never assaulted anybody. There was no excuse for a restraint chair, and Brantley was feeling foolish for not seeing it sooner—the guard, with his overbuilt physique, and the weapon. Probably as good a candidate for a patient as an employee.

Brantley resolved that he would get material evidence when he returned. Keep the recorder on when he talked to Grunbeck. That would be enough to bring to Johnston’s attention. He might even be able to turn it into a favor.

That night he typed his notes as the snow fell. A Discourse on Delusion would earn him more than his PhD, it would be a reference for the entire profession, and would make him wealthy. And sorry Lana, he thought, my professional earnings will be spent elsewhere.

He had hoped to speak with Frakes three or four times, but after reviewing his notes, decided a second time would be enough. And if he got the nurse written up and even dismissed for treating a case of hypomania like a violent criminal, the articles that followed would make a nice footnote.

His work and his coffee finished, he stayed up a while. He began to read, then eventually closed his book and watched the damp snow until it changed to sleet.

But it wasn’t Lana who appeared this time among the trees. It was Frakes, flesh scorched black by the dark drops that seemed to burn him: “Iron rain,” he rasped, before he vanished in the darkness.

* * * * *

“Hallucinations aren’t contagious, are they?”

“Excuse me?” said the barista as she handed him the espresso.

“Nothing, just a joke. I study psychology.”

“That’ll be $6.95, with the student discount,” she said.

Brantley took his drink and paid. He didn’t have time to flirt anyway, he was running late. He didn’t need to give the staff anything to complain about, particularly if he was filing a complaint himself.

When he arrived at Melkor it was pushing ten o’clock. He hurried across the lot, and when he reached the receptionist, stood heaving and splashed with slush. “I’m here.. to… see Doctor Johnston’s…”

“I know,” she said. “Mr. Mardens will escort you.”

Brantley stepped to the elevator where the guard stood beckoning. Did the bastard live there? It was pushing sixteen hours if he started five o’clock the day before.

“Pulling a double shift?” Brantley asked as the elevator carried them up.

“No, I just live here,” said the guard, smiling into his wrinkled cheeks.

When the doors opened, Grunbeck stood waiting. “I’ve prepped the patient,” he said. “I’m afraid he didn’t sleep well last night. I’ve given him a shot of epinephrine. It should help him talk.”

Brantley nodded, entered the interview room, and closed the door behind him. Frakes sat in the restraint chair by the window, as he had the day before. He still kept his head crooked, but this time his foot tapped hyperactively on the floor, calf twisting and vibrating as much as the strap would allow. A result of being shot up with the stimulant, no doubt. Brantley noted to add it to his list of grievances. He sat down, set up his computer and notebook and was about to begin with why Frakes hadn’t slept well, asking if he’d had dreams.

Instead, Frakes spoke first: “Are you going to tell everyone outside? Are you going to tell them about where he takes me?”

“Well, as you know, this interview is going to be part of my book, so I suppose the answer is yes.”

“Oh, good, that’s good,” said Frakes, nodding and shaking.

“Maybe we should talk more about that,” said Brantley. “Why you would want people outside the hospital to know about your dreams?”

“I… I don’t know,” said Frakes, his head going from crooked to shaking back and forth. “I just know he wants me to, and he’ll be pleased that way, if we’re successful.”

“And success is just telling your story? Is that all?”

“On my side, I guess, yeah. I’m just supposed to tell you everything. And you’re going to put it in your book, and then more people will know.”

“Know what exactly?”

“What their choices are. What’s going to happen to them.”

“Are you saying others will have the dreams you are having?”

“I told you, they are not dreams. I agreed to return today, in case you had any more questions, and to tell you this—that disobedience of the first commandment is the most grievous. Thou shalt put no one else before Him, not ever, no matter how else He commands thee.”

“That’s quite a statement. Say more.”

“Say more?” Frakes retorted. His voice had changed, become the deeper tone of the veiled man. “You are not one who speaks in the imperative, Mr. Brantley. You are a vassal. You hold no authority here. You must carry on as Our scribe until We otherwise order.”

Frakes’s shaking had stopped, and he met Brantley’s eyes with an unblinking gaze.

“I see,” said Brantley. “Mr. Frakes, I came here because I had permission from Doctor Johnston, and from yourself, as he deemed you were fit to give it. And yet the questions I ask are mine, and of my own accord. Still, I cannot blame you if you feel trapped. I plan on speaking to Doctor Johnston about your restraints, for example.”

“Thou shalt not,” said the voice.

Only then did Brantley notice the figure that had stepped into the room. It stood like an apparition cast by the window’s snow-shrouded light. By the open lab jacket, thick belt and boots, he knew it to be Grunbeck. And yet he had a second belt strapped diagonally across his chest from shoulder to hip. Something long and dark hung from it. And a veil draped over his head, under which Brantley could only make out the silhouette of a face.

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