A collaborative thriller / horror story with a very dysfunctional protagonist.
“Where do you think this compulsion – this need – comes from John?”
He didn’t respond.
“John you can’t just ignore me forever. If you want to get better you have to talk to me. None of this works if we don’t open up a dialogue, do you understand that?”
John mumbled something under his breath.
“What was that?”
“I said yes,” he growled.
“Finally,” she smiled sweetly. “Progress.”
Lindsey pushed her chair away from the table with audible squeak as it rubbed against the laminate floor and stood.
“I get the feeling it’s going to be a long night,” she said. “You want a coffee?”
“How do you take it?” She asked – the coffee now serving as a useful tool to keep John communicating with her while also introducing a simple concept to his sub-conscious mind – that if he cooperated and interacted with her then he would get the things he wanted. It was a simple exercise but these little trust-building baby-steps formed 99% of psychology in practice – the big sweeping breakthroughs, epiphanies and revelations filling out the equation.
“So John,” she began as she set down a cheap polystyrene cup in front of him with what smelled suspiciously like even cheaper coffee inside. “Now that we’re friends, let’s talk about this obsession of yours. I don’t mean the delusions, not yet anyway. Why is it John that you feel the need to be the smartest person in the room?”
John remained silent and unmoving for a moment and Lindsey worried that he might have retreated back inside the safety of his mind – but then he spoke.
“You’re the doc, doc – so you tell me.”
She took a swig of her coffee and then pushed it aside dismissively.
“God that’s awful,” she said grimacing. “Eww - and the aftertaste.”
“Still I am quite sure that the caffeine and sugar go some way to assuage the flavour, especially at this late hour no?”
His first unsolicited comment. She had him.
“So you want my assessment?” She ignored his question and cut back to the subject, establishing which of them controlled the conversation now that they were having one. “But you see John therein lies the rub. If I tell you what I think then you can simply score my assessment and determine what a bright spark I am, or rather how dumb I am - right? That is the game isn’t it?”
John didn’t take the bait and just watched her closely resuming the silent treatment.
“Well I’m not going to engage with your little games John. Here take a look at this instead.”
She placed a file on the table and slid it over to him. He eyed it, and her, suspiciously for a moment but then gave in to his curiosity and reached for it. His eyes quickly scanned the document.
“Nicely played,” he conceded as he returned the file which contained IQ tests and scores for each of them to the table. She had even taken the time to prepare a presentation slide with a chart demonstrating his categorical superiority at tasks requiring the use of different parts of the brain. He did notice that she had omitted any reference to emotional intelligence from the document but he didn’t let on that he had picked up on it.
“Look John I get it, the world is full of stupid people. Compared to you I’m one of them. Everyone gets it though – we all fall somewhere on a bell curve. I mean ultimately there is always someone out there smarter than you, or more specialist in something you can’t do, heck when even competing with ourselves,” she explained. “You’re either not wise enough in your youth or by the time you have a bit of worldly experience your mind starts to slow down.”
John just glared at her, as if waiting for this monologue to wrap up.
“The point John, is that everyone understands this. It’s universal to feel this way. So why don’t you?”
John simply shrugged. Unwilling to play along.
“You can’t hide from the question John. Your delusions are tied to your megalomania that much is obvious. It takes a heck of a god complex to create a fictional world where you are the last man alive don’t you think?”
She was quite deliberate in her choice of words, intentionally skewering the details – if it came to it an argument was still a conversation. Her objective tonight was only to keep him talking and retain control of the conversation – so long as she ticked those two boxes they might as well talk about unicorns for all she cared.
“It is not a delusion, I am quite aware of the distinction between fantasy and reality. Your colleagues have long since established this fact. It is simply a recurring dream, and I have never claimed to be the last living man within the fantasy. Your predecessor took a much stronger interest in the finer details of my imagination than yourself it seems – he had quite the palette for good-calibre fantasy. Perhaps I should have recommended some decent fiction novels, he would enjoyed the escapism.”
“That’s all well and good John but you haven’t answered my question. Why do you constantly have to prove your genius? Why can’t you simply accept that there are people out there that, for better or worse, are better at some things than you?”
“I imagine I am less willing to accept compromise than most.”
“That’s bullshit and you know it,” Lindsey blurted. “Let me show you something else John.”
She delved into the box of records she had by her feet and lifted out two more folders. One was significantly fatter than the other.
“This John,” she held up the slim folder. “Is the psychiatric notes of a woman who had been held against her will by a motorcycle gang for eleven years. In that time she was regularly gang-raped and suffered not one, not two but three forced-abortions, the last one was so badly botched she nearly died. When the paramedics were finally able to examine her they found numerous bruises, cuts and burns dating back years. She’s now HIV-positive and living on borrowed time John. Pretty traumatic stuff.”
She then held up the larger of the two folders.
“And these,” she slammed it down on the table with a weighty thud. “Are your psychiatric notes. You’ve had so many doctors, played so many games, told so many lies - do you see an unhealthy pattern here at all?”
John stayed very quiet and still, his eyes locked on the first folder.
“Goddamn it,” she cursed. “Even now all you’re thinking about is getting into this file and having a good nose aren’t you? Well forget about it, you can get your vicarious kicks somewhere else.”
“You use my name a lot,” John replied calmly. “I know what you are trying to do. It won’t work.”
Lindsey decided it wrap things up for the night, John didn’t want to play ball just yet and she couldn’t force him. After her promise of a long night, changing her mind on a mere whim would also serve to reinforce the idea that both she and he were slaves to her will, not his. Besides she had at least got him talking to her so she was ready to chalk tonight up as a win. She pushed her chair out from the table and stood.
“We’re done for tonight John, but I’ll make you a deal. If you answer me one question truthfully I’ll leave you her case file,” she gestured towards the thinner folder she had shown him moments before. “Do we have a deal?”
“Of course,” John lied. “Ask away.”
“Do you even want to recover?” She asked.
“Yes, more than anything,” he said – though he couldn’t quantify even to himself if that was the truth or not.
“Interesting,” she murmured as she set the file down upon the table.
As she turned to leave John flipped open the document and discovered that the folder simply contained blank page after blank page. He had been duped. The last page simply read – ‘If you are reading these words John, then perhaps you should consider the possibility that I am in fact not quite as stupid as you presumed. Enjoy the coffee. Lindsey.’
Hardly an orthodox approach but orthodox had been tried with John, many times, and it had yet to yield results.
A thin smile spread across John’s lips as Lindsey exited the room. Clever girl. This, he decided, was going to be tremendous fun.
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“Jesus Christ John! You really don’t care about anyone but yourself do you?”
The scene played out in his head for maybe the thousandth time. So familiar now but yet every bit as raw and real as ever. After all these years, and despite everything that had happened since, these nightly echoes of Emily’s words still pained him deeply. More so than he’d ever admit – even to himself.
Sometimes John wondered why these dreams still haunted him. Perhaps whatever scar she had left him with had never had a proper chance to heal – after all how could it with his subconscious mind picking at it nightly – replaying it over and over every time he closed his eyes. Maybe this was just his penance, simple as that.
Regardless the dream continued. As always John was paralyzed, unable to act. Once by choice, now by tradition. As he studied Emily her expression hardened as her resolve grew, and emboldened she continued.
“Everything is fine just so long as John’s a-okay right?” Her voice turned icy cold as she spat the last part: “Fuckin’ pathetic.”
John grimaced. He wanted to vent back at her, to scream, shout, maybe stamp his feet a little – or even just to reach out and touch her – to feel alive again, just one last time. Jesus, how he wanted to take back every harsh action, every careless thought or word, to undo every foolish sleight he had tossed her way, all those times his anger had gotten the best of him, every time he had slapped her around – but he couldn’t. Stubborn as he was there was no point arguing with a ghost. Forgiveness and redemption just weren’t in her script, they couldn’t ever be.
His knuckles turned a pearly-white as he clenched them into fists, still feeling the same frustration as hotly as he had so long ago. Even if he could speak, and somehow make her listen, what could he say anyway? She was right after all. The worst part was the harder he ran from the sentiment – the truer he proved her words to be.
“Well? Aren’t you going to even to say anything? Jesus, passive-aggressive much honey?”
A muted smile spread across his lips. She was beautiful when she was angry, he had always loved her fiery temperament. And he couldn’t remember her more riled or sexy than she looked right now.
“I love you,” he mouthed silently. She just looked right through him. She couldn’t hear him, she couldn’t possibly. Instead she just continued her rant but for some reason the words forming in her mouth grew quiet and distant, until he couldn’t hear her at all. The room itself began to unravel, fading quickly into obscurity – and then Emily was lost to him all over again.
John found himself suddenly in the place again – the remainder of his usual dream sequence cut mercifully short. More heartache for another time. He shivered. It was cold and dark. Night time. If his conversations with Emily represented his mental torturing of himself, then this place – this was his physical abuse. Filled, as it was, with fear and pain.