Out of print, but signed copies are available here at Author's Den.
When Dr. David Porter developed a new hypnotic therapy for his seemingly incurable patients he soon got results beyond his wildest hopes. What he never anticipated was that there might be some cases where the cure was worse than the disease.
Dr. David Porter loved his job. In fact, he loved nothing in the world more. Hypnosis was his existence, and passion shined through in the results.
His workspace was a 13X10-foot room that was essentially plain: white walls with no adornment, an analog clock with an audible tick, beige carpet, an inclined couch for his clients, an armless leather chair for him. Plain was the way he liked his workspace, for it wasn’t the workspace that mattered but the labors that transpired inside.
Today it was Peter Harris, a fifty-year-old lawyer and seasoned alcoholic, who was on the couch. In the dim light, Peter lay a few feet away, facing Dr. Porter, so his reactions to the trance could be gauged. By his sunken shoulders and the slack muscles in his usually rigid face, Peter was way under.
In the soft melodic voice Dr. Porter reserved for trance situations, he asked, “Am I now speaking directly to the subconscious?”
The index finger on Peter’s right hand shot up, indicating, “yes.” Dr. Porter was pleased, because he knew he was now talking to more of Peter than anybody else would ever be able to talk to. Through several sessions, Dr. Porter had taught Peter to enter a state of deep relaxation. Only in this state could the mind be separated from the body and everything else in the here and now. Only in this state could a person have complete access to all he or she had ever thought and felt, a complete history of learning and memory spread out like an open book.
“Now,” Dr. Porter said, “I want you to remember completely the time right before you took your first drink of alcohol. Signal me when you are there.”
In a matter of two seconds, Peter’s “yes” finger shot up. In a regular state of consciousness, Peter would have had to search his mind for a much longer time. Even then, if he could find the memory, it would be fuzzy. Peter wouldn’t be able to experience what he was thinking and feeling at that time so long ago, because his mind would be too crowded with what was going on right now and in his recent life. But under hypnosis, Peter had total access to that long ago time, without anything contaminating his experience.
“Go ahead and take that first drink,” Dr. Porter said.
After a couple of seconds, Peter actually gulped, and then a look of disgust came over his face. He wasn’t tasting alcohol as it tasted last night, when he’d had several shots of bourbon before bed. He was tasting alcohol as it had tasted so many years ago, before addiction made the taste a signal that comfort was coming.
Dr. Porter was almost certain this case would be a success. Within Peter’s subconscious, Dr. Porter would find all he needed to help this patient conquer his addiction. He would attach that initial taste of alcohol to the here and now, and when Peter went to take his next drink—probably later tonight—it wouldn’t be the soothing taste that comes with years of dependence, but that initial taste from years ago that brought out his body’s natural tendency to reject something that tasted bad. He would remember those early days, his first hangover, the first time he dry heaved fumes of whiskey. These memories would come with clarity, no longer buried under years of alcohol-dependent experiences.
And Peter would be fine. Dr. Porter knew this, because since he’d set up practice in Green Pastures, South Carolina, seventeen years ago, he’d seen such successes hundreds of times.
In an ever-growing geographical area, he was the one other mental health professionals sent the cases they couldn’t help. There was a waiting list to be on Dr. Porter’s waiting list. But with all of his success, it wasn’t the improved clients that Dr. Porter dwelled on late at night when the workday was done. It was the few clients whom he had failed that stuck in his mind.
Janet Pollard sat at the dinner table with her favorite three people in the world. Robert, her husband, a tall strong man, Superintendent of Pious Schools, alternated his attention between his plate and his two sons, one which he had conceived, one of which he had inherited through marriage. Robert had been, and Janet was sure would always be, a good father to both the boys. And Janet knew that wasn’t always easy. It was easy with the son he had brought into this world, 14-year-old Randy, a prize athlete, exceptional student, and a pretty damn good kid, the image of his father. But it was somewhat more difficult with Toby, who, at 17-years old, was neither the image of his stepfather nor his biological father, whom died shortly after Toby’s birth. No, Toby was a perfect contrast to both of those men. He was not strong and healthy like his stepfather, and he was not morbidly obese like his biological dad, whose 400-pound girth had contributed to the massive heart attack that killed him. Toby, at five-seven, was a beanpole at slightly over ninety pounds.
Tonight, her husband was holding back. It was the first week in September. Tomorrow night was the first football game of the season. Randy, like his father, tall and strong, was to be the first freshman ever to start at quarterback for the Pious Eagles. That was what they had expected to be the conversation piece at dinner tonight. But the excitement over Randy was held in check right now, because another drama was playing itself out at the table. Toby, who usually only brought vegetables to his plate, had, on this night, started out with a slab of meatloaf.
Janet knew that something bad must have happened today, because it was only after something bad had happened, usually someone singling him out, that Toby made such a desperate attempt to overcome his aversion. It was only after someone had terrorized him about his small stature that he tried to take upon himself what various professionals, medical and psychological, had not been able to help him with. But it was more than Toby’s attempt at eating meat that told Janet something was wrong. She had known as soon as they came home from practice, where Randy was a star, and Toby, who could never play but loved the game so much that he had to be close to it, was given the title of manager and allowed to tend to the water and equipment. She had known because Toby had come home quiet and Randy, trying to bring his brother out of himself, had tried hard to engage Toby.
Janet, herself a healthy and attractive woman at forty-two, knew this was more than Toby’s battle. It was the whole family’s battle, because that was the way the four of them worked. Toby’s problem had always been there, and they had always combined against it, even after they had exhausted every resource of professional help and come to accept that the best they could do was offer moral support.
Toby had finished half the slab of meat and then stopped. He then stared straight ahead as if trying to concentrate on his body’s reaction. Janet remembered his father and his reverse struggles. The man shunned about every piece of food but meat. And he ate voraciously, like a lion in the jungle, unable to control himself.
Janet had seen Toby’s drama played out many times. And though she tried to maintain hope, she knew as well as the others at the table how this drama would end. She decided to try to lighten the mood.
“So how was practice?” she asked.
Both Robert and Randy looked at her, a little surprised that the silence had been broken.
“Good,” Randy said and then turned to his brother, who sat diagonally from him. “We ought to make a good show tomorrow, right Toby?”
Toby didn’t answer, just stared ahead.
“How are the older boys with you taking over the quarterback position?" Robert asked Randy, but looked at Janet. Robert, Janet knew, was a little confused now. He managed Pious schools, but the unspoken agreement was that Janet was number one in matters of family. Janet nodded at her husband to let him know it was all right to distract attention from the drama.
“Well,” Randy responded. “They’ve all come around. We moved Matt over to tight end, and he seems to like it enough.”
“That sounds good,” Robert said, more relaxed. “As burly as Matt is, I didn’t think he was mobile enough to be quarterback.”
Randy nodded. “Yeah. And the upperclassmen like me good enough. But that’s just because most of them are good friends with my big brother.”
It was a lie, a beautiful, sweet lie that almost brought tears to Janet’s eyes. Randy, who was just under six feet and still growing, handsome, with his father’s solid features and Janet’s wavy blonde hair, was miles away from where any other fourteen-year-old with his physical endowment would be. He didn’t prey on or ignore the meek, either of which he could have done without losing status amongst his peers. He was lying for his brother’s sake. Those older boys thought Toby nothing more than a mascot. What Randy had gained in a short time, respect and popularity, was due completely to his own charm and prowess.
“Yeah, Big Bro paved the way for you,” Robert said, joining in the patronizing. Janet suspected the false flattery did nothing for Toby’s self-esteem. He appreciated it, because he knew it came from their affection for him, but he knew just as well that it was based on lies.
And then the drama climaxed. Toby got up quickly and rushed to the hall. The bathroom door slammed shut, but even closed, did not completely drown out the terrible sounds of Toby’s vomiting spell. His stomach had forced up meat, which, for some reason that medical and psychological doctors could not explain, was repulsive to Toby. It was yet another failed attempt to overcome that repulsion.
Dr. Porter came to from his self-initiated trance. He lay alone, in his dark office, on the inclined couch. Peter Harris, his last client of the day, had left about an hour ago. Alice, his secretary, had left shortly after that. He had locked the doors and turned out the lights.
Dr. Porter never engaged in self-hypnosis experiments when someone else was nearby. He didn’t want others questioning his endeavors. That was his main impetus for coming to Green Pastures soon after receiving his PHD from Harvard. He didn’t want others questioning his work and clouding his mind with their skepticism and critical remarks. He didn’t want to engage in scholarly fellowship and be sucked into its intermingled politics, and he didn’t want his contemporaries questioning his choice not to share his research. So he came to Green Pastures from Cambridge, to a place far away from the Ivy League and anyone he knew. And in Green Pastures, as he practiced his art, he studied, a little in books, but mostly in the subconscious minds of others and himself. That was the best way to do it. The subconscious had all the answers.
The trance had been exactly thirty minutes, because before he went under, Dr. Porter had set a part of his subconscious to monitoring every tick of the clock on his office wall. That part was programmed to bring him up after 1800 ticks. This trick was relatively new in his self-hypnotic routine. He had brought it in about six weeks ago, when he first decided he would attempt to reach previously uncharted regions of trance. That way his mind would be free of angst about not being able to come back from the deepest levels of the subconscious, and he could relax enough to go there.
For a few weeks, he had gone deeper and deeper, further away from his outside experience and further into the inside. Then he had reached what he thought was the bottom. He went there a few more times and saw the same thing as before. Then tonight, for the first time, he brought light to what he saw. And now he was far advanced beyond anyone in the history of hypnosis research.
Hopefully, he’d soon be able to help anyone. The already rare client whom he couldn’t heal would become nonexistent.
Dr. Porter became very excited. But it wasn’t just that he wanted to help people. In fact, helping people wasn’t the main motivation for his work or his research. Helping people was a mere byproduct of his search for knowledge. For Dr. Porter, life had become like working a giant puzzle that no one else had ever been able to finish. And now, with where he had taken himself, he thought he was at least gathering up the last pieces. But it was still all very preliminary. He’d seen the deepest level of the subconscious, but he didn’t know if he could take others there. He needed his favorite guinea pig.
On Thursday night, Dr. Porter had dinner with his favorite guinea pig. As a rule, though he frequently studied his clients, he was careful not to involve them in anything completely new, where he didn’t know all the dangers or how much time he would need. Given time, he was sure he could undo any damage done. But with clients, time was almost always of the essence. That is, there was always a chance they would not show for the next session. With his favorite guinea pig, time and danger were of no real consequence.
Shortly after coming to Green Pastures, he had contracted with a cleaning service for his house. They sent him Tabitha. She was an attractive woman, seven years younger than he, and, more importantly, very agreeable. He began courting her immediately. Through careful indirect questioning and meticulous observation, he came to understand her. Tabitha did not want to think or work very hard, yet she wanted the things such labors would provide.
Their marriage, not much later, was an unspoken agreement. Dr. Porter would provide the things Tabitha coveted. In exchange, Tabitha would be there for him and never question what he was doing. Both had lived up to their end of the bargain. Besides income from his practice, Dr. Porter had made many wise Stock Market investments. Tabitha had her nice things: a big house, a BMW, vacations, expensive clothing and jewelry. And by not having much pressure in her life, Tabitha had maintained a youthful appearance. At thirty-seven, with her hair still blonde, her face still smooth, and her body, which had never born a child, still slender and flawless, she was often mistaken for being much younger. In exchange, Tabitha took very good care of the house. And she was always a willing subject in any experiment he wanted to involve her subconscious in, while at the same time, never discussing the experiments with anyone and never questioning the experimenter.
Near the end of dinner Thursday night, Dr. Porter told his wife that he needed her to help him the next day.
“Okay,” she said with a Barbie Doll smile.
Morgan’s Pub was dead on Thursday night. That came as no surprise to Celeste Sheever, who had been a server there for four years now.
And she didn’t fret that she would leave tonight with less than $50 in tips. Working the underpaying weeknights at this downtown pub was the dues she paid to work Friday and Saturday night, each of which would get her between $150 and $200. No, it wasn’t that she wasn’t making money that bothered her. It was the awkwardness.
There were two servers Monday through Thursday. One side of the pub was sunk down below the bar and one side was slightly elevated. This strange architecture added to pub’s charm and provided a natural dividing point for the tables. Tonight, Celeste had the sunken section.
The other server was Celeste’s best friend and the person she second most wanted to avoid. She wished it were Friday night, when the staff would be too busy to chat.
As Celeste tended to her few customers, she tried to avoid Kendra, who she knew would be brimming with the inevitable questions. And in the little bit of time she had to interact with Scott, the new cook, the one she most wanted to avoid, she tried to pretend there was no weirdness between them.
She was extra friendly with the regular customers tonight, striking up and maintaining long conversations, not giving Kendra the opening she needed. It worked until midnight, when the pub closed.
Celeste was wiping down a table when Kendra came down to her section.
“Wouldn’t it have been better to be vacuuming?” Kendra said. “Then you wouldn’t have been able to hear my questions.”
“Damn!” Celeste replied. “Why didn’t I think of that?” Celeste stood up straight and looked at her friend, who was smiling impishly. Kendra was short and small on top. She was cute, but in a pixie sort of way.
Ironically, Kendra, who savored all the male attention she could get, was not the first one the men looked at. The first one they looked at was Celeste, who, in what seemed like a cruel joke from God, was blessed with the assets men generally looked for. She was slender, but with an ample chest and round hips. Her fiery red hair and rich brown eyes gave her a misleading wild look.
She got way more male attention than she could ever want. At least, she got a lot of attention from the new ones, staff and customers, who hadn’t learned the rules.
And how did they learn the rules? Not by what Celeste said. She didn’t like to have to explain it to people. It was easier to let the grapevine do that.
“Well, you know we’re going to have to talk about this at some time,” Kendra said.
“Oh really?” Celeste said, though she knew Kendra was right. And now that no one else was around, she was secretly glad to talk about it. That way, the rules, the way things just were, would get back to Scott, and he wouldn’t have to take things personal. Through the other staff members, he would understand that it wasn’t about him; it was about Celeste.
Kendra nodded confidently.
Celeste said matter-of-factly, “Scott asked me out.”
Kendra laughed and shook her head. “I knew it. Rumor was going around that he would.”
Celeste gave her friend a wicked look. “And nobody was kind enough to tell the poor guy about me before he asked me out?”
“Hell no,” Kendra replied. “Where’s the fun in that?”
At that, Celeste shook her head. It was fun and games to her coworkers. Celeste didn’t mind that, though. Having had her repulsion for so long, she herself had learned to make light of it. Making it a joke kept her from going crazy.
Celeste went back to cleaning her tables. Kendra didn’t leave.
“So what did you tell him?”
Celeste laughed at the question.
“What?” Kendra asked.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Kendra. I forgot that we just met yesterday. What do you think I told him?”
Kendra, who Celeste had actually known for four years, put her hands up. “Okay. Okay. Don’t get your panties in a wad. I just thought maybe you might be ready to try again.”
“No, Kendra. I’m not ready to try again. I’ve given up on trying. It’s just the way I am. I’m repulsed by sex.”
Even having to say the word grossed Celeste out a little. Kendra seemed to sense this was going beyond their usual bantering. She walked up and put a supportive hand on Celeste’s shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” Kendra said. “It’s just that he seems really nice. And he’s mega-gorgeous. I just thought maybe he was the right one.”
Celeste sighed, looking down at her friend. “Yeah, he’s great. But it isn’t about the right one. There is no right one. No perfect guy is going to come riding in and make me forget what I am. And no guy is going to want anything to do with a serious relationship that is completely celibate. I’m coming to accept that I’m destined to spend my life alone.”
Kendra shook her head. “You’ll never be alone. You’ll always have me.”
Celeste thought she could see just a bit of humor in Kendra’s face. She was serious in that she would always be a friend to Celeste. But Celeste thought Kendra was thinking of something else at the same time.
About two years ago, Kendra had approached Celeste with the idea. It was just an experiment. They would try it and see what happened. Celeste had ended up going further with Kendra than she’d ever gone with a man. And that wasn’t far. Though Celeste had tried to like it and then just tried not to be disgusted by it, they hadn’t even gotten their clothes off before Celeste realized that she wasn’t a lesbian and had to stop. For several weeks, she’d barely been able to look at her friend without wanting to vomit.
“I know you’ll always be there,” Celeste said. “And that makes it all the more scary.”
“Well!” Kendra said playfully, as she put her hands on her hips. She then smiled and said, “So you told him no?”
Celeste half-growled and then said, “Yes, you twit! I told him no!”
Kendra ran away laughing.
Dr. Porter had a break in clients after one o’clock on Friday. He had one more client to go for the week, later that evening. So at one, he went home, where Tabitha was waiting. They went into the bedroom, Tabitha’s favorite place, the place she was most able to relax. She lay on the baby blue spread on their king-sized bed. He sat off in an oak rocking chair.
Surrounding them was Tabitha’s favorite obsession, dolls. One shelf was lined with little girls in petticoat dresses. Another had little girls in more casual play outfits. On top of a long dresser were sleeping babies wrapped in blankets, some in bassinets, a few in baskets.
To Tabitha, the dolls were a simple hobby. To Dr. Porter, they represented so much more. They were Tabitha’s subconscious wish to always be a child and to be surrounded by a world of innocence.
Many times, Dr. Porter had been inside his wife’s subconscious. He had changed things there, but always changed them back, keeping her a clean slate to work from. Of course, even after he changed things back, there were always traces of what he had done, but the subconscious would only access those traces if he told it to.
Tabitha, her head propped on two pillows, listened as he talked soothingly to her. Going into a trance was like anything in that a person got better with practice. Tabitha, a trance veteran, was under in a matter of seconds.
Dr. Porter said, “Now that you are deep within your subconscious mind, completely separated from the outside world except for hearing the sound of my voice, I want you to look at your history. But do not see it as it unfolds. See your entire history, everything you’ve sensed, learned, thought and felt, as one thing. Signal me when you are able to do this.”
As expected, Tabitha did not respond to this immediately. It was a tall order, even for the subconscious. Dr. Porter repeated his command, periodically spaced, several times. Thirty minutes elapsed before Tabitha raised her “yes” finger.
Now her entire history was not a sequence of events in her subconscious, but a single entity. Aside from himself, she was the first person he had done this with, and he was certain he was the first to try it with anybody.
Dr. Porter said, “Now that your entire history is one thing, I want you to separate from it. Make your history one separate thing and your current experience another separate thing.”
Again, this was no small task for the subconscious. It took Tabitha another thirty minutes.
When she finally did signal that it was done, Dr. Porter thought of how she wasn’t even aware that she had signaled. In fact, had he been talking to just her, where her experience was, she wouldn’t have had access to the learning that told her how to signal with her finger or even what a finger was. But he was talking to her subconscious, where that learning was still intact, just separated from her experience.
Tabitha was now three separate things. She was the physical being, relaxed on the bed beside him, all of her history, and her current experience. And where was Tabitha’s current experience? It was in a place completely uncontaminated by anything in her environment or history, completely separate from knowledge. She was at the very base of her subconscious.
He let her stay there for about fifteen minutes, before he said, “Now I want the subconscious to tell me what Tabitha sees.” Again, it wasn’t the part that Tabitha was experiencing that he was talking to. That part would not be able to answer. But, from her subconscious, she said, “Dark.”
And with that, Dr. Porter was satisfied for now. He wouldn’t take her as far as he’d gone yet. He wanted her to practice going to where she was at for right now. He had the weekend to do that. He brought her up.
The drum roll echoed from the gymnasium above. A voice of someone, probably one of the senior players, shouted something to the crowd of students, bringing back cheers. Down below, in the locker room, Toby Pollard sat on a bench, choking down the least repulsive part of his diet, a Vanilla Ensure.
All food tasted bad to him. Meat made him puke. Some vegetables stayed down if he didn’t eat them too fast or in too big of doses. Ensure was gross, but, requiring no chewing, was quick and easy to swallow.
Because the season opener was a non-conference road game, way downstate, and the team had to leave right after school, Toby had to skip the pep rally in order to get things ready. This being his fourth year as manager, he knew what needed to go and how to pack it, so it hadn’t taken long. Now he could take time to force down his Ensure alone, with no one commenting on the disgusted looks he gave, or asking how “that shit” tasted.
Toby didn’t really feel like he was missing the pep rally. He could feel its energy. And he was excited. He would have rather been a player. He would rather have been a lot of things. But he’d take what he could get.
This would be his most exciting year as manager. His brother was starting at quarterback, which made the team, and his job, all the more personal.
The pep rally was almost over, and he was almost finished with his Ensure, when someone else came down into the locker room. And it was the worst possible person.
Matt Craven appeared in the doorway. The big senior had a look on his face that was half disgust and half mischief. Randy had lied to their dad about Matt. He had said that Matt liked the end position. But it was clear to a lot of people that Matt was bitter.
Matt had been second string quarterback the year before. He had assumed he would start at quarterback this year. He hadn’t so much as voiced his irritation at losing his position to Randy, but that irritation was clear in his new sulking manner. And he had further made it clear at practice the day before, when he took it out on an easier target than Randy Pollard, Randy’s older, but much smaller, brother.
The team had been near the end zone, practicing extra points. Toby had been retrieving the kicked balls. Matt pointed out to the team how Toby disappeared when he went behind the goal post, bringing out smatterings of laughter every time Toby crossed it.
Randy hadn’t said anything, but by the look on his face, had wanted to. Toby knew his brother had resisted because he didn’t want to bring strife to the team the day before the first game, and Toby was glad to be spared the further shame of having his younger brother defend him.
And now Toby was alone with Matt, who, since he’d come to Pious four years ago, had been indifferent to his thin classmate. But Matt would ignore Toby no more, because now he had a reason to notice the skinny freak.
Matt strolled in slowly, whistling a slow, unfamiliar tune. He didn’t make eye contact as he walked by Toby to the water fountain. Toby hoped Matt would just get a drink and leave, but he wasn’t so lucky. After his drink, Matt came over and sat next to Toby on the bench.
Toby was scared. Though he was occasionally made fun of, his frail appearance also brought pity. No one had ever wanted the inevitable soiled reputation that would come with whipping up on a harmless weakling.
But Matt’s reputation was already somewhat tarnished, being a senior who had lost his prized position to a freshman. Toby wondered if Matt would really care if his reputation got worse.
“Toby Pollard,” Matt said out loud, as if beginning some kind of biographical speech.
Toby nodded as casually as he could, trying to act as if there was no friction between Matt and him. He even tried to think of something to say, but with his frightened mind, nothing would come.
Matt reached over and patted Toby across his narrow back. The pat was hard enough to hurt, but not so hard that Matt couldn’t deny that offence was intended.
“Toby Pollard,” Matt repeated and then patted Toby again, this time nearly knocking him off the bench.
At this point, Toby wanted to run, but he doubted he would get away if Matt didn’t want him to.
“Toby fucking Pollard,” Matt said and then laughed wickedly. “Our manager. Got his job because his step dad is the superintendent.”
Matt paused as if waiting for reaction, but Toby had no reaction for him. Then Matt said, “Just like his brother got to be starting quarterback because his real dad is the superintendent.”
Toby knew that only part of what Matt said was untrue. He was right about Toby. Their dad had asked the coach personally if Toby could work for the team. But Matt was the only person who would claim Superintendent Pollard had anything to do with Randy being quarterback. The proof was in the pudding. Randy had shown up to two-a-days throwing further and more accurately than Matt. Randy was faster and an all-round better athlete, and the team seemed to respect his leadership more than Matt’s. Players and onlookers had been saying it should happen before Couch Tibbs decided to move Randy into the starting position.
And now Toby wasn’t only scared. He was pissed. Matt didn’t have the guts to say this to Randy, so he was saying it to Randy’s weakling brother.
But as mad as Toby was, there was nothing he would do. The only thing he could threaten Matt with was politics. His brother was the starting quarterback and quickly becoming the most popular kid in school. His dad was the superintendent and possibly the most respected member of the community. Toby could have used those things to his advantage, but he wouldn’t. He just hoped Matt would leave him alone soon.
But then a hero appeared in the doorway. Randy walked in and right up to them. He looked down at Matt.
“Saw you leave, Matt. Didn’t come down here to mess with my brother, did you?”
Matt responded by standing up. Randy made no buts about what he was willing to do. He pulled his hips back and fists up. They were squared off, Randy taller but Matt with at least thirty pounds on him.
Their dad had boxed while in the Marines. He had passed his knowledge of the sport on to Randy. Toby didn’t doubt that Randy could throttle the older kid. But Toby didn’t want that to happen, not right when the season was about to start, not because of him. He stood up between the two boys, facing his brother.
“No, Randy. It’s not like that. We were just talking.”
By the expression on his face, Randy knew he had just heard a lie, but he still put his hands down.
“Yeah,” Matt said, his voice a little provocative, but a little shaken too. “We were just talking.”
After a few seconds, Randy said, “Fine then.”
“All right,” Matt said and then left.
Toby stood alone with his brother. In a few minutes, the rest of the team would come down and start to load up.
As if sensing Toby didn’t want to talk about what just happened, Randy said, “They say it might rain tonight. You might want to pack extra hand towels.”
“Taken care of,” Toby replied.
Randy smiled. “What would we do without you?”
“I can’t believe it,” Richard Powell said from the couch. “For the first time in over thirty years, I feel good.”
Richard Powell was a 52-year-old veteran of the Vietnam War. He was also a veteran of an arm amputation, post-traumatic stress disorder and concomitant depression, all products of that war. Dr. Porter had done everything but bring the arm back.
“A few months ago, when you said what we were going to do, I didn’t think it had the slightest chance of working. Do you know how many people I’ve seen and how many medications I’ve taken to overcome this?”
Dr. Porter didn’t answer the rhetorical question. But he did know how much treatment Richard had received. He had a thick file on the man. PTSD in war veterans was often resistant to conventional treatments. But, of course, Dr. Porter did not use conventional treatments. And now he spoke to this.
“Sometimes when something terrible happens to us, something that destroys our subconscious assumption that the world is a safe and harmonious place, our subconscious mind locks us in that time.”
“I know,” Richard politely interrupted. “That’s why I had the dreams. That’s why so many things I saw and heard took me back to that time and made me have flashbacks.”
Dr. Porter didn’t mind the interruption. He wasn’t trying to teach Richard anything now. As he did with all of his clients, he’d educated Richard on the subconscious’s role in his disorder. That was why Richard could speak intelligently about it now. Now, with Richard’s treatment done, this a rap up session, Dr. Porter was merely thinking out loud.
“Yes, Richard. In an attempt at self-preservation, your subconscious was reminding you of the traumas you faced, so you would avoid them. But sometimes our subconscious is overzealous and causes us to freeze up.”
Richard laughed. “It’s funny how fear can be both a healthy and unhealthy thing. But you taught my subconscious to focus on the time before the war, when people weren’t dying all around me, when I wasn’t killing people, and people weren’t trying to kill me.”
“That’s right, Richard,” Dr. Porter calmly said. In many cases of PTSD, something less could have been done. People could be cured without hypnosis. In many treatments the client was simply asked to imagine the time of his or her trauma over and over again. Soon, when the imagined reliving of the trauma did not bring about the trauma itself, the subconscious was satisfied of its safety and moved on, confident the trauma would not recur.
These treatments were very effective with many trauma victims. With veterans, on the other hand, PTSD was more complex, because, in their case, PTSD didn’t arise from a single event. It arose from many traumatic events faced day after day and night after night in combat situations. There was rarely one particular trauma to target; there were many traumas. And the many traumas fed upon each other, forming a barrier that could not be cracked. But that barrier stood in a particular time, which the client’s subconscious continuously returned to.
What Dr. Porter did was train the subconscious to remember a time before the war and focus there, where the barrier did not exist. Soon, the subconscious was satisfied that the person’s current life need not be focused on protecting from the events that occurred in those months or years when the person was at war, and that it was safe to move on.
But, sitting there on this Friday night, with a client whom conventional wisdom had no means of curing, but whom Dr. Porter’s methods had cured, Dr. Porter could not help but go back to his obsession, the few clients he had tried with and not cured. In their entire lives, he was not able to find a place to take them where their dilemmas could be solved. He did not understand the barriers that stood in their way. He thought he soon would.
Saturday at Morgan’s Pub was as hopping as always. The usual upper crest stopped in to get carried away and tip well. Because blue laws made it illegal to sell alcohol on Sunday, the pub closed at midnight.
With the customers cleared out, the staff enjoyed a few drinks as they cleaned up and got the pub ready for when it would reopen Monday afternoon. At 1:30, a half-baked crew decided on whose house they would retreat to for the rest of the night. This week they decided on the home of Tiffany, who managed the pub.
Seven of them went to Tiffany’s, where they drank more and got high. Celeste loved these after-work parties. She felt very comfortable around this group, made up of her coworkers, who were also about her only friends.
Everybody here knew and understood a lot about Celeste, except for Scott, who if he stuck around, would probably come to understand Celeste as well as the others. As a rule, those who didn’t come to understand and accept the rest of the staff, would not fit in and end up leaving within a few weeks of starting at the pub.
Around 3AM, the party became temporarily segregated by gender. Paul, the bartender, was on the couch having a discussion with Scott. The five women were standing a few feet away in a circle, gossiping about one of the regular customers.
Kendra got the circles attention. “Look at them over there. They look kind of serious.”
The conversation of the two guys on the couch was drowned out by the loud music. But Kendra was right; they did look kind of serious.
“We should do something about that,” said Tiffany, who at thirty-five, was the oldest person in the place. “On three.”
Tiffany counted, “One. Two. Three.” Then she, Kendra, and Chelsea, a college student and part time server, lifted up their shirts so that their bras were showing.
It took a few seconds for the guys on the couch to notice they were being flashed. Scott, who had worked in the pub scene before coming to Morgan’s a few weeks ago, didn’t look overly shocked by the exhibition.
“That’s enough to distract me,” Paul said. “But not enough to hold my attention.”
“Attend to this,” Kendra said as she flipped the cups of her bra up. Scott still didn’t seem surprised or embarrassed. Paul, as usual, went for more.
“That’s a little better,” Paul said.
Tiffany brought up her bra and so did Chelsea. Julie, another college student and part timer at the pub, only stood by and laughed, probably because was starting to get serious with the guy she was dating and wasn’t sure he would appreciate her tities on display.
Paul looked pleased. Scott looked mildly amused, but not overly excited. It was Celeste who was able to shock him. In one swoop, she whipped her shirt and DD bra up.
Four male eyes focused on her revealed breasts. Paul, who had seen her breasts before, still stared at what were obviously his favorite in the group, the two he knew he’d never be able to touch, but still salivated over. Scott’s eyes grew and his mouth dropped open a little. Celeste shook her beautiful breasts for the pleasantly disturbed men and then put them away.
About an hour later, the rest of the group outside, Celeste was alone on Tiffany’s couch with the new guy.
“You really surprised me a while ago,” Scott said.
“Oh,” Celeste said, pretending to be naive. “Did you not know I had tits?”
“Well, yeah. It’s just. . .”
Celeste finished for him. “It’s just that you heard I hate sex.”
“And I do. But that doesn’t mean I’m ashamed of my body.”
Scott nodded, but in his face Celeste saw disbelief.
Celeste decided that since the others had broken him in on her condition, she could fill in the gaps of his understanding.
“Look, I’m not like your run of the mill prude. I’m not shy or embarrassed about my appearance. It’s just that once the touching starts, I start feeling a little grossed out.”
Scott’s face looked a little less confused. He started to speak but then stopped.
“It’s all right,” Celeste said. “Ask.”
“Well, isn’t that something you could get help with?”
“Yes,” Celeste responded. She didn’t feel defensive now. She thought it might be the alcohol. But she also thought Scott had something to do with that. He was patient and respectful, not going anywhere uninvited.
“I’ve taken meds, seen a sex therapist, even went to a hypnotist.”
“A hypnotist. That sounds interesting.”
“Oh yeah. It was. And it was helpful, in a way. It didn’t cure my problem, but the hypnotist said something that put it in a little better perspective.”
“What was that?” Scott asked, and looked truly interested. Celeste liked that, and she thought he might fit into the group.
“Well, he said that he used hypnotism to take people into their past. There they could find the root of their problem and kind of uproot it, or they could find a better time to go to, when they had what they lack now, and just sort of bring it back.”
Celeste paused to look at Scott, trying to gauge if he was following her. He was either a really good faker or he was attending. She finished. “He said he couldn’t find anything in my subconscious to help me.”
Now Scott appeared to be thinking. Then he finally said, “Which makes it easier for you to accept. Because if there isn’t a part of you that has ever been interested in sex, then you don’t have to spend your life fretting about recovering something that was never there in the first place.”
Celeste was in awe. He had nailed it. That probably meant a lot of things about him. Most important, it meant he had been listening.
And not just listening with his ears, but truly taking in what she was saying, feeling what she was saying, so he could understand it enough to understand her. That was a lot of work for a guy to put into a girl he knew he didn’t have a chance of scoring with.
Celeste was amazed by this new person in her life. And, though she couldn’t possibly be attracted to him, she wasn’t oblivious to the fact that he was, as Kendra put it, mega-gorgeous.
How nice it would be to develop a relationship with him, to see where it would go. But inevitably, she knew it would fail. He wouldn’t always be willing to work this hard with a woman who couldn’t give him something physical in return. Even if he was willing, soon some other beautiful woman would come along, one that was able to supply the physical, and hoard all of his empathy and emotional support.
“Yeah,” Celeste finally said to him. “You’re right.”
After he’d brought her up on Friday, Tabitha, having for the first time been separated from her history and learning, had been able to discuss where she’d been. She had described it like a vague dream, where she was an unthinking, unfeeling being in a dark place.
That she was able to remember where she had been was not a surprise for Dr. Porter. Coming out of the trance, her history naturally rejoined her current experience and she was able to use that history to put words to the experience she’d had, like when a dreamer comes from a dream that lacks the logic of waking life, but is able to recall that dream upon waking.
Dr. Porter hypnotized his wife several times on Saturday, getting her used to going to the dark place, the deepest, most basic level of her subconscious. He also trained her subconscious to bring some of her history to that deep level, but only enough that she would be able to maneuver inside, not enough to contaminate it and make it something else.
And what he brought from her history were things that were common to most people, stripping away any personal association Tabitha had with these things. That way, he hoped, he would be able to show her, and through her descriptions, show himself, her subconscious as it existed without the contamination of her own life.
And now it was Sunday. Tabitha was on the bed and Dr. Porter off in a chair. He had her under, in the dark place, completely bare of her history and learning.
Dr. Porter said, “Now that you are in this place, I would like for your subconscious to bring from your history enough, and only enough, of that history to respond to my voice.”
Dr. Porter waited a few seconds and then asked, “Is the subconscious ready?”
Tabitha’s “yes” finger shot up, as it was by the previous day’s preparation, adept at meeting this request.
Dr. Porter said, “To the place experience is now in, I want you to bring vision and light.”
Although he was boiling with his lust for knowledge, Dr. Porter controlled himself. He wanted to know what Tabitha could see right now. And he could have that description immediately. But he knew the description would be a lot less choppy if he got it after she was out of the trance, with her memory and language more readily at her disposal.
Dr. Porter said, “I would like for what Tabitha sees right now to be placed at the front of her subconscious. Let her be able to describe the memory of it with clarity, immediately after she comes out of her trance.”
Dr. Porter, confidant with the subconscious’s ability to meet this request, didn’t ask for affirmation. Instead, he immediately proceeded to bring Tabitha up.
“Now, as I count down from five, I would like you to come out of your trance. Five . . .”
A short time later, Tabitha came from her trance with bright, glowing eyes.
“Wow,” she whispered.
Dr. Porter fought his need to know back for a few more seconds, so what Tabitha was now experiencing, a vivid memory, could set in.
He finally said, “Tell me what you saw.”
“It was a tunnel,” Tabitha responded.
Although he was 40-years-old and intelligent enough to know better than to engage in frivolous attempts at getting better, James Kisner still tried to be better once a week. So like on every Monday morning, this Monday morning he left the refuge of his parents’ basement.
He found the two retired professors at the kitchen table, waiting for him. The curtains were pulled shut and in front of an empty seat were a filled coffee cup and an empty plate. In the middle of the table were serving plates, one bacon, one eggs, one toast.
If this had been one of the other six days of the week, he would have stayed downstairs, where he would have prepared his own breakfast and gotten his own coffee. When downstairs, other than having supplies brought down to him, his life was very independent. He had his computer and the Internet, as well as many books and other publications to link him to the outside world. He even entertained guests from time to time, mostly his parents and a select few of their closest friends. He had a kitchenette, a bathroom, as well as makeshift living and sleeping areas. Downstairs, his life was normal as could be, aside from the fact that he spent over 99% of his time there.
But in the little time he spent upstairs, he was as dependent as a child. Because of the shakes that came with being out of his sanctuary, James wasn’t even able to carry his own coffee.
James took his seat, the level of his anxiety telling him this would not be a long visit and that he would not be brave in the short time he was here. On some Mondays, he was able to calm himself enough that he might request a curtain be opened. Occasionally, he opened one himself and sat in the light coming from outside for a few minutes, before he had to retreat. But today didn’t feel like it would be one of those days.
“Good morning, dear,” his mother said.
“Good morning, Mother,” James was able to whisper with the small amount of wind his body could spare.
His father, obviously sensing James’s limits this morning, merely nodded, at which James nodded back.
James suspected his parents were way more easygoing about living with his disorder than most people would be. They both used to teach at Arabuke University, a few blocks down the street. His mother had taught English and Creative Writing and had not been too inconvenienced by having a dependent at home. His father, who had taught Anthropology, had often traveled for long periods of time. The worst of it, James thought, was that he, who had moved into the basement at a very young age, had limited their ability to travel together. But they had not once complained. They’d made what accommodations they could. And when he’d gotten older, they’d been less afraid to leave him alone, although he was sure they were not away as long as they would have been had they not had the burden of their adult son.
James did not immediately fill his plate. Instead, he attended to his breath and to his body, using one of the many relaxation techniques he had learned over the years. One of the things he thought ironic was that he could probably be considered an expert on relaxation techniques, yet if he was to try and go out to teach these techniques, he’d freeze up with fear before he made it to the car. For now, James was able to calm himself a little.
It wasn’t so much where he was at that was scary. It was that he was now closer to the outside that horrified him. And what about the outside scared him so much? After many years of help from many professionals exploring that question, James still didn’t know the answer. All he could come up with was that the outside gave him a terrible sense of dread, and that it had been that way for as long as he could remember.
Today, James was not able to calm himself enough to open a single curtain. He wasn’t even calm enough to do more than nibble at breakfast, and he didn’t finish a single cup of coffee. Within minutes, he was downstairs.
There, he reclined and listened to music. His living area was completely surrounded with speakers, and the music was generally something classical and complex. He became absorbed in the music and his fear melted away. He didn’t even want to think about leaving again, until next Monday.
Dr. Porter didn’t act immediately on his findings. All day Monday, and into the evening, he was with clients. But in his mind, in the moments of his job that were routine and did not require his undivided attention, he was considering a dilemma.
He and Tabitha, with their history pushed aside, had seen the exact same thing within their subconscious minds, and that was as he had expected it would be. He had suspected before, that aside from the adornments of personal experience, the subconscious minds of most people were the same. Just like most people were born with two hands, one brain and one heart, most were born with a place to store every instant of their lives gone by. And stripped of those instants of time, everybody’s storage place was essentially the same, a tunnel.
But the tunnel was only the same for most people. For those whom Dr. Porter had not been able to help by bringing something from their pasts, he suspected there would be something different. He didn’t know yet how they were different, how their tunnels were different from most. And there lay the dilemma.
The tunnel Dr. Porter and his wife had seen was vast, a cylinder, inside which they floated. The walls of the tunnel were uniform, black and solid. There was nothing else to them. Dr. Porter suspected this was the tunnel that many people surviving near-death experiences or returning from death itself reported moving through. When these people reported their life flashing before their eyes, it was actually the stripping of their histories from their subconscious minds, leaving the tunnel.
In essence, with himself and with his wife, by stripping the subconscious of personal history, leaving it in a pure state, Dr. Porter had done what only death had done up to that point. By doing this, he had gone against natural experience. A person was not supposed to see this tunnel before it was brought about by death.
Dr. Porter wondered if it were wrong for him to tamper with something so pure and natural. He suspected it was. The dilemma was whether he would let that stop him.
He thought about it some more on Tuesday. Then, Tuesday evening, he made the calls.
It was about six o’clock Tuesday evening, when James’s phone rang. It was a rare event that anyone aside from tele-marketers called him. His biggest contacts with the outside world were through discussion forums and games played over the Internet. And in these communications, James maintained an impersonal, intellectual tone, keeping his life out of it. He saw no need to tell people, “I’m a 40-year-old agoraphobic who lives in his parents’ basement. My skin is pale from lack of sunlight, and my bushy gray hair is unkempt, because let’s face it, it really doesn’t matter how I look.”
James picked up the line.
“Hello, James. This is Dr. Porter.”
Though James hadn’t spoken with Dr. Porter in eight years, the hypnotist’s voice was still very familiar.
“Oh. How are you, Doctor?”
“I’m doing well. I’ve recently had a breakthrough in my methods. That is why I’m calling you.”
“Interesting,” James commented.
“And if you don’t mind me asking,” Dr. Porter continued. “Have you had any changes in your condition since we worked together?”
“No,” James responded without needing to think about it.
“At the risk of sounding coarse, that doesn’t surprise me. As I remember, yours was very resistant to any kind of treatment.”
James laughed lightly. “I don’t find your honesty the least bit coarse, Doctor.”
“Good, James. Now let me tell you what I have in mind. I am in the process of soliciting participation in small group, where I will be using experimental procedures. The group will consist of no more than five, probably less, clients who, through no fault of their own, were unable to benefit from my regular hypnotic methods. Because of the experimental nature, no fees will be charged.”
“That sounds good, Doctor. But as you know, I would never be able to make it to a group session.”
“I have considered that, James. And just like before, I would like to work with you in your home. What I propose is that we bring the group there.”
James thought about it for a few seconds. If nothing else, it would be intellectually intriguing.
“Yes,” James said. “That would be fine. And I’ll do anything I can to accommodate you.”
Next year, Toby would go off to college. And that scared him. He was a gifted student. His freshman year he’d made a B- in Spanish. Otherwise, his transcript was flawless. He’d taken the SATs during the summer. And he’d scored in the top two percent. So he wasn’t worried about the more difficult classes. He’d handle that. What scared him was that he was not used to being alone, not used to being a freak and being alone, with no one to fight his battles for him.
His dad’s position had provided a constant intimidation factor for kids who might have otherwise taken their antagonizing a bit further. And now, his brother had been there to protect him from the first kid who seemed ready to cross the line between verbal abuse and physical assault. Friday night, in an indirect way, Randy had further handled the situation.
The rain had come down steady for most of the game. Both offences had sputtered, with ball carriers unable to find traction. The Pious Eagles had prevailed in the low scoring affair, 14-0. What little offence there was came from the Eagles, and in particular, from quarterback, Randy Pollard, and his favorite target, tight end, Matt Craven. The paper said Matt, who caught 12 passes, carried the Eagle’s offence. Toby knew it was more than that. What had really happened was that Randy, by prejudicially selecting his receivers, had carried his older brother. On Monday, a high-spirited Matt apologized to Toby for the things he’d said.
Toby struggled not to say anything about it. It was wrong, he thought, for him, a mere manager, to indirectly play a major role in the game. But it had ended well, and Randy seemed excited about winning the first game. So Toby, not wanting to spoil the jubilation, said nothing.
But he did worry. What would it be like for him next year, living in a dorm, with other eighteen-year-olds, none of which cared who his dad was, none of which his brother could appease by throwing a football to. For the first time in his life, Toby, the skinny freak, would be alone.
And Tuesday night, alone in his room, that thought was what he dwelled on. Then his mother came in and sat at the side of the bed. She ran her fingers through his hair and asked, “Do you remember Dr. Porter?”
Toby nodded. Of course he remembered the hypnotist. Of all the therapies he’d received, Dr. Porter’s was the only one he’d liked. It was fun to see where his mind could go, and it was nice to know that level of relaxation, even if, like everything else, it didn’t work.
“I just got off the phone with him,” Mom said. “He’s got this new experimental therapy he says might help you.”
Celeste had Monday off. Then, when she arrived at work Tuesday afternoon, Tiffany was working the grill.
“Scott’s day off?” Celeste asked.
“Nope,” Tiffany said abruptly. “Quit.”
And that was that. Scott was gone. As she worked Tuesday night, Celeste tried to pretend it didn’t bother her. What could she possibly have been hoping for anyway?
But it did bother her. And it bothered her even more when no one wanted to hang out after work that night. They were not as desperate as she was. Companionship was easier to come by for the sex-having, normal people.
And Celeste craved that. She didn’t crave sex, because she just couldn’t. But she wanted the things that seemed to come with it. Everyone else at the pub, whether they were with someone right now or not, at least shacked up with someone from time to time, or had the occasional bed buddy. And Celeste was left to wonder what that was like. What was it like to wake up and not be alone? What was it like to know, or at least have the freedom to know, that you would go home every night and someone would be there? What was it like to not have to wait for the weekend when everybody else had enough spare time to hang out, just so you could get your little bit of companionship before the next week of loneliness began?
Celeste had lied to Kendra. She had not accepted that she would die alone. And she had, in a way, lied to Scott. She didn’t want to give up the search. She still wanted to find something to explain what was wrong with her, something wrong that could be fixed. She wanted to want sex.
Despondent, Celeste went home alone Tuesday night. There was a message on her answering machine. It was Dr. Porter.