And I looked, and there was a pale green horse. The horseman on it was named Death, and Hades was following after him. Authority was given over a fourth of the earth, to kill by sword, by famine, by plague, and by the wild animals of the Earth.
“Very good. Peter, can you hear me?” The doctor hovered, slightly hunched, inches from his face, speaking softly with a sure calmness.
“Yes,” Peter breathed, a relaxed exhale in the affirmative.
“Good. I’m going to count back from three to one. When I say ‘one’, you will be aware, calm, and have full recollection of what we discussed during our session. Do you understand?” the doctor asked.
“I understand,” Peter answered.
Dr. Phillips backed away slightly and rose to her full height. A statuesque yet slender woman, the sweet tone of her voice did not match her confident, at times even stern, demeanor, but it did serve to calm her patient and make him that much more susceptible to the much-needed hypnosis therapy. “And 3…2….1. How do you feel, Peter?” The young man lying on the couch opened his eyes, looking slightly puzzled. He blinked twice and then oriented his gaze on the smiling doctor, sheepishly returning her pleased look.
Peter Deveraux was used to the gurgly feeling he got in his gut when someone like Dr. Jo looked him in the eye. He wasn’t good around attractive women, and sneaking furtive looks at pretty girls, never looking them full in the face for fear of death by embarrassed mortification, was all he could manage most times. Like now. He found himself looking… no, STARING, at the incredibly attractive psychologist. She understood, and withstood his gaze, knowing how hard it was for him to look at her at all. Peter couldn’t help himself, and he drank her in as one would a priceless work of art that has only become more precious throughout the ages. He thought about how perfect she looked. She was an enigma to him, like all other women. He was still trying to get used to the fact that he could speak openly and confidently to her. Dr. Jo was not like other women. She didn’t embarrass easily, or at all, really, and she was easy to talk to. He felt safe with her. He knew he was in good hands. She was trying to help him.
“So, doc? What do you think? I think that was one of the best we’ve had!” he said. “Man! I feel like I have had the best night’s sleep ever!” He punctuated that last statement by stretching and swinging his legs around, so his feet touched the floor.
Dr. Phillips just smiled a knowing smile and said, “I will lob that one back over the net to you. What did we learn during this session?” Dr. Jo drifted casually over to the white oak bookcase behind her marble top desk, and grabbed a bottle of Maker’s Mark. She took a cloth and swiped at the inside lip of a rocks glass, and deposited two ice cubes.
Peter watched and smiled at the clink-clink the glass made. “More than I knew I had forgotten, that’s for certain.” She motioned to him an offer of his own drink and he nodded.
She crossed back to him and offered the bourbon, taking a slow sip of her own as she sat. “Tell me.” He stood and tested his feet, still feeling a bit confused by what he was feeling, and by what he had remembered.
He raked his hand through his sandy hair, sipped his drink and started, “Well, I was having a conversation…” He stopped, as he tried to process what he would say next.
“And who was the conversation with?” she prompted. “It’s alright, Peter. It’s just us… you know you can talk to me. Just continue with what you remember.”
He felt a little relief, as he always did when she spoke to him. He forged forward, deciding that the best way to proceed is to simply tell her what he remembered. He laughed softly and looked her in the eyes, “It’s crazy, and I know it can’t be right, but, it was Michael. The archangel.” He shook his head and felt ridiculous just saying it, but he knew without any doubt that he had spoken to the angel, and that the angel had, more importantly, spoken to him. Other than a slight widening of her eyes, Dr. Jo showed no other emotions at this pronouncement. It seemed as if she were expecting something along the lines of what Peter had proclaimed, and was greatly relieved to hear it. “Did you hear what I said?” Peter asked her, trying to get some sort of reaction.
“I’m right next to you. Of course I heard what you said.” She took another slow sip from her glass, stirred her ice slowly with her slender index finger, and said, “What did Michael say?”
Peter blinked, “He asked me about that day.” he started. “It was just the two of us standing out front of my uncle’s place in Hammond, but then, all of a sudden, I was there, reliving everything.”
She caught a hint of panic in his voice, and she willed a new wave of calm to assist his recitation. “Go on,” she said, soothingly.
Peter felt a slight warmth and peace wash over him, took a deep breath and continued, “July 4th weekend, 2006. My uncle Mike threw a big party at his house in Hammond every year.” His eyes took on the glazed look of a person who was deep in thought. Dr. Phillips noticed his blank stare and wondered briefly if he was truly free of his earlier hypnotic state. She let him continue, silently vowing to stop him if he became distressed. “Uncle Mike told us that the cottonmouths were moving around pretty good because it was mating season, and we were to stay on the dock at all times.” He said. “My cousin Emily had a friend from school staying with her for the weekend. Stephanie...” he recalled the girl, then paused like he was considering his next words. “There were about five or six of us at the end of the dock, doing nothing. Just goofing off. I remember Stephanie not wanting to get close to the edge of the dock because she couldn’t swim. My cousins got a little rough near her. They were arguing over who was going to feed the fish the last of the food my uncle gave us.” Peter took a deep breath and continued. “Steven pushed his brother into Stephanie. I tried to grab her but she toppled into the water.” He told her, “Stephanie hadn’t gone out to the end of the dock because she didn’t know how to swim.” Peter looked a bit more anxious, but continued, “She went under as I jumped up and took my shirt off. I had kicked off my other shoe when she resurfaced, a little further out, and screamed. I hit the water very close to where she went in.” He recounted. “I didn’t think about it, I just jumped. I had been swimming there since I was little and didn’t think there was any danger, other than a girl who might drown.”
“What happened after you jumped into the water, Peter?” she asked him.
He looked up at her and took reassurance in her calm demeanor. Recalling the terrified girl, he continued, “I swam to Stephanie. She was gurgling and crying as she came up. Her arms and hands were everywhere! She was so out of control and scared! I was able to hook my arm around her chest and pull her to shore. She stopped thrashing around when I started to swim with her. I knew everything would be okay after that.” Peter finished. Dr. Jo smiled at him, but his countenance clouded over and he furrowed his brow. “She had lost one of her shoes and she kept saying that she would get in trouble with her parents. I figured that since I knew where she fell in, I should be able to find it.” Peter continued, strained, “Turns out I was right about finding the shoe, but when I got to the shallows back near the dock, I stepped into a mating ball. It was so sudden and violent…” Peter trailed off, and a lone tear escaped down his face. “I was bitten so many times, and all I remember is pain. It really hurt, and I was scared.” He looked at Dr. Jo, searching for the words to describe his nightmarish experience, fully reverted to his thirteen-year-old self. Dr. Phillips closed the distance between them and laid a warm hand on his shoulder. The effect was immediate, and he continued his account. “All of the adults were on the bank and witnessed the snakes writhing around my legs and biting me repeatedly. I didn’t remember this, but I was told afterward”, he shrugged. “The pain was crazy! They tell me that I got out of the water and collapsed. I remember being so weak. And blood. There was blood everywhere, and it just didn’t stop.”, he recounted, horrified. Peter was working himself into a panic with the retelling of his story. Dr. Phillips willed him to continue, silently comforting him with every breath, hurting for him all the while. This was too important to not see through to the end, she reminded herself.
“What else do you remember, Peter?”, Dr. Jo asked him.
Peter looked over at her with a puzzled look on his face. “Up until today, nothing. Now, I remember reaching the emergency room. Lights, voices. Lots of movement; being moved to one table, then another.” he said. “I remember pressure, shouting, and then… the pain faded, like someone slid a dimmer switch. I remember seeing a single light hanging above me, but it wasn’t the operating room light you see on TV. It wasn’t super-bright. It had a warmth to it. It didn’t hurt my eyes or scare me or burn me. The light got bigger and more pleasant, warmer, as the pain went away. I could still hear the doctors, far away, doing… something. All I could think about was the light. I wanted to see the source of it, to know where it came from. The more the pain went away, the further away the voices got, and the brighter the light became. It was all I could see.” Peter seemed mesmerized, reliving his fascination with the light. Peter blinked and shook his head. “Just light… it’s all I remember.” The patient stood, a bit shaken and took another pull from the drink he held.
The doctor said, “Peter, sit back down. I’m going to try to put you under again, okay? Stay where you are right now, don’t leave the light for anything.” She muttered something quickly and placed a solitary finger on his forehead. She knew that this wasn’t the right way to do it, but she didn’t have time to do it the right way, so it was the Other Way, for now. “Peter, when I count to three, just like last time. 1,2,3. Tell me about the light, Peter. Can you see it?” She stepped back from him and got a good look at his face. By the glassy eyed expression and calm look, Dr. Phillips knew that he was there, again. He could see, feel, hear, and most importantly, remember and process everything from that moment. “Peter? You’re there, aren’t you? In the light? What do you see? What is there with you?” Things were getting intense, and the waves of calm pulsated so steadily and rapidly from the doctor that they were almost audible.
“Yes,” Peter continued, “I see a man. A man? No, that’s not right. Something else. An angel? It? No, he. He has wings. Wings! Are you an angel?” Peter asked, remembering. “Peter, is he saying anything? The angel?” Dr. Jo asked. “He’s smiling; happy. Laughing at me! Michael, like from the Bible… in Sunday school. He says I’ll be fine.” Peter’s voice broke with sarcasm, “Fine? Weird to tell someone that’s dying that they’ll be fine. I want to be okay, believe me!” He said, frustrated, still entranced. “Is he saying anything else other than you would be fine?” the doctor asked him, expectantly. “He says I’m special and that I’m not supposed to die. I’m going back. And something else... about my selfless actions.” Peter looked surprised, and swallowed hard. “My actions were selfless and have earned me a special honor.” He said with a small smile. “I’ve been chosen.”, he stated in an excited voice. “Chosen for what?”, Peter asked, confused.
That was enough. She had done it. She touched his forehead again, impatiently. “Peter? Peter! Look at me!” Dr. Phillips snapped.
The glazed look left his eyes and Peter zoned in on the pretty doctor. “Doctor Jo? What? You heard all of that, right? I remembered it all this time! Weird dream! I never got to the angel speaking part, though! Until today. Usually, I just died on the table in my version. What does it mean? What did HE mean?” He asked.
At that moment, the smartphone on the doctor’s desk buzzed. She looked down at her watch. “I’m afraid we went a bit over and that will be Ms. Anders letting me know my next appointment is here.” she told him. “Please, Peter, remember to write any new information in your journal so that we can discuss it in the next session!” She looked at him and gave him a smile and a brief nod.
“Can you tell me what all this means?” Peter asked her.
“I’m afraid I don’t know that yet, but we are unravelling the mystery, aren’t we?” She was elated at their breakthrough, and her face showed it. She was positively glowing, and she gave his shoulder a slight squeeze as he picked up his journal and started for the door. She assured him, “Peter, we are further now than we have ever been, and yet not nearly as far as we will go. I am here to help you and guide in your progress. Do you trust me?” She asked, searching his eyes.
“I do,” he told her. “I will let you know if I remember anything else, doc. Thanks.”
As the door opened Peter turned and gave Dr. Jo one last smile and felt a sense of calm wash over him when she smiled in return. “You have my number… call anytime.” She told him, then she turned to the older black man waiting in the waiting room. “You can come back, Abe. It’s nice to see you!” she said to him, and smiled warmly as if greeting a dear friend.
Abe brushed past Peter on his way into the office and gave him a friendly nod.
“See you next week, Peter?”, the lovely receptionist asked Peter when he reached the door.
Peter stopped with his hand on the doorknob, his heart beat wildly and his throat closed up, “I-I…” he stuttered and looked at the floor, “Yes.” he said quietly. He turned the knob and walked away without looking back. He didn’t see her warm smile.
Peter opened the door to the afternoon French Quarter heat, and he could hear the bedlam of the New Orleans French Quarter from a distance. The Quarter was too much for many, even on the tamest of days. Peter knew well that leading up to and preparing for Fat Tuesday could be just as loud, chaotic, and frantic as the actual event. The city, HIS city, had a special place in his heart, which is odd for an introvert, he thought. Most large cities try to put their best foot forward- stately gentlemen, dressed to the nines and ready to wine and dine you with class and dignity and get you home at a proper hour- when tourists come to call. New Orleans? - a crazy uncle who shows up unannounced in your driveway on a Friday afternoon in a hot red Jag that will whisk you away to a memoir-worthy adventure fit to make any of the big-city visitors blush. When Mardi Gras was in full swing it was NOLA’s best foot; the best the Quarter would be all year, and every raucous second would be a write-home-about-it moment for those involved- an ear-splitting, pandemonious carnival affair with plenty of debauchery and drinks… lots and lots of drinks. Peter would be making some final preparations for shutting himself away for the next two weeks; he did NOT like Mardi Gras.