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The Mysterious Cities of Light: Abnormal Circumstances

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A student on the edge of his 20 is desperately seeking meaning to his life when he comes across a band of young adults investigating a series of enigmatic events. As the group realizes it's being framed by a mysterious entity, Cameron's eagerness to save his new friends drives the atypical boy to overcome his greatest fears and embark on an unsettling adventure.

Mystery / Scifi
Age Rating:

Chapter 1 - I Just Want to Die

In the beginning, there was darkness...

The sudden ringing of the bell announcing the end of the day prompted the English teacher to raise his voice and stand a chance of being heard.

The young adults in the university’s amphitheater were poised to leave. Most had already packed their belongings. When the old Texan would pronounce the sacred words, all will be heading home. His vocal cords weakened by the cold he had gotten back from Colorado last week, the man knew the conclusion of his lecture on theology was near. The bell’s volume was exceedingly loud. It wasn’t a fair fight.

By the time he closed his book, the crowded class had emptied almost entirely, with students rushing to the exit in fear of being deemed subject to homework.

“Mr. Blake, a word?”

The recently assigned teacher signaled the last 20-year-old sitting on the front row to come see him, as if he was searching for a tissue in the drawers of his desk.

“Yes, professor?”

Never in his thirty-year career had Lawrence Williams met such an intriguing student. Cameron Blake was one of these individuals for whom the world seemed like a giant puzzle.

On his first day at Duquesne University, Williams noticed how the boy used to look at his surroundings and the people inhabiting it. His interrogations, ranging between what most consider obvious to obscure, always appeared to be such a great deal for him.

“You didn’t speak today. Are you unwell?”

“Sorry. I’ll ask more questions next time, I promise.”

Although the teacher felt something was wrong with his student, he decided not to push for more details. Of all the occasions he had tried to get to the bottom of things with Mr. Blake, he couldn’t remember a single one for which the gray-eyed boy did not end up muting himself.

“I just want to reiterate, should you have anything on your mind... you know where to find me.”

“Yes. Thank you, sir.”

The old teacher moved aside, staring at Cameron as if he were looking at a past version of his own self, long before his ginger hairs turned white.

Few were those who could understand him—to a certain extent, of course. Growing up, the young man faced a lot of difficulties in making lasting relationships. The first person with whom he successfully connected at the age of eight was Rose. The child often visited her grandparents who turned to be Cameron’s neighbors. She had this special thing that the boy was never able to name, yet allowed a perfect communication between the two although none was actually pronouncing a word. They were strongly united, like brother and sister.

When Rose’s grandparents moved out of state nine years later, Cameron’s world suddenly dimmed. He had lost his buddy, his confidant, his life support. Getting through the week became painful. The past few months were notably excruciating.

The curly-haired boy straddled his bike near the main gate of the university, recounting once again in his head his evening plans. A snack, his favorite drink, a few candles, and, of course, the perfume. He was almost ready. The last item which required attention was the letter.

The day was the twenty-third of February 1993. Like every year, Camy, as Rose liked to call him, was waiting for a special message from his best friend. He hadn’t heard from her in the past six months. The boy assumed she was busy making new connections. In one of her previous letters, she bragged about her gang. It wasn’t clear to him if she meant that literally, as she always had a rebel soul, or if she simply used the word as a figure. One thing stood for sure: Rose would never miss her best friend’s 20th birthday, even miles away... Would she?

As he rode through the street, Cameron could feel the strong olfaction of cheese melted by day-long heat waves blending with the delightful flavors of roasted chicken. The small town’s market was the most intact memory of his father. The two would walk home from school every Friday, greeting their fellow neighbors and acquaintances on the way, while stopping at the displays to buy supplies for the next week. And when the sun was dawning, quickly replaced by the shining moon, the pair used to play hide-and-seek behind the remaining crates on the pavement.

The antiquarian at the end of the alley, last crossing before entering the suburbs, was just closing his shop when the boy rang his bell. Sir Garry, the infamous salesman of Asbury, is the oldest person Cameron knew from the town. Every time he went by his storefront, the student was amazed to see how everything looked perfectly intact. As if the building was frozen in time. It had no dust, the same items were displayed, and the wooden sign seemed freshly installed. Even Garry himself wasn’t getting any more wrinkles than the one cornering his face, probably resulting from his generous and permanent smile.

Home was near. The boy could already see the red roof with its missing tile. As the sun was declining, one thing stood clear in his mind: he would miss Asbury.

Cameron slowed down before the small wooden gate to admire the flourishing yard of their most direct neighbor. The old lady, who used to baby-sit him when his parents were at work, had such great floral taste. Even her house smelled of lilac. When he finally arrived at the bottom of the hill, Cameron dismounted his bike, and continued on foot. The air was warm today, and the boy was already hot. His heart started pacing as the mailbox came in view. He opened the hatch quickly as one would rip a bandage, only to find it empty. No letter from Rose. Maybe he should have taken the initiative of getting news from her. Cameron wasn’t sure if she was actually mad, or if she just forgot to mail her envelope.

Postal cards were the young adult’s primary means of communication. Words laid on a sheet of paper seemed less complicated to decipher than those being pronounced. And while it’s true that writing them was not providing the same intensity when it comes to emotions, it allowed him enough time to measure their meaning, and express himself in a clear, syntactically and semantically correct manner. After finishing a letter, Cameron would review his sentences, making sure that they indeed carried the right feeling and couldn’t be misinterpreted as it was often the case orally.

The boy dropped his bike next to the porch, reached the white front door and entered his home. Delilah was watching TV from the couch. The air inside was much cooler. His adoptive mother would keep the blinds shut all day, and open the windows past midnight. Doing so allowed the house to retain the refreshing atmosphere of the night. When she heard her son, Delilah turned around.

“Hey, sweetheart. How was your day?”


She stood silent for a second, eventually giving up waiting for the next word.

“Fine is great!” she cheered up.

She had one of these smiles that Cameron didn’t like. The kind of expressions she started wearing when her husband died years ago, right before he met Rose for the first time. It was a very dark period for the family. The case was especially mysterious. “A banal car crash,” they were told. Yet, his father’s body could never be found. Cameron had so many questions, but none was ever answered. Neither Delilah nor the inhabitants of Asbury let alone the local police department had uncovered any piece of evidence. All have been avoiding the matter since, causing the young child to retire in his own world. It took him a very long time to heal. A whole decade during which he had not spoken a single word. The only sentences he articulated were the ones he penned in his letters to Rose.

“There’s dinner in the fridge.”

The boy already had his meal packed in his bag. For his special day, Cameron wanted the tastiest tuna fish sandwich. At lunch break, he had walked a few miles to the best food truck in town, and stuffed his dish in a cooling box he bought for the occasion. Yet, he was curious to see what Delilah had cooked for him. As he headed to the kitchen, the auburn-aired lady scoffed at the loud comedy show she was watching. Three empty bottles of red wine appeared as soon as the boy opened the refrigerator. Cameron knew exactly what that meant—he wasn’t the only one feeling low. He stepped back, shut the door, and proceeded to his room upstairs.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” his mother called out. “This ‘Jonas’ came by the house again today.”

Delilah stood up and walked towards him, with a twinkling sparkle in her eye.

“Honey... I know it’s not easy, but I really want you away from this boy,” she conceded. “He’s not good for you. He’s making you sick.”

Cameron had introduced Jonas to her some time ago, as one of his friends. From the look on her face that very day, he knew she wouldn’t like him. Sick. She often used that word when referring to Rose, but she would always come back at her in a smart way. Unfortunately, Jonas was lacking such wit. Shortly after his first encounter with Delilah, Jonas decided to step away from Cameron, further damaging the boy’s relationship with his adoptive mother. He seemingly regretted that move and started showing up every weekend, only to find a closed door each time.

“We don’t talk anymore.”

“Great. You know I only want the best for you. Someday you will understand.”

Delilah was correct on one point; Jonas was not good for him. Indeed, the twenty-five year-old local movie star had been playing with the autistic young adult, sending mixed feelings and craving for his attention at times, then avoiding him for days as he was just starting to open up again.

“Don’t forget to bring your used clothes at the church on Sunday,” she added. “I promised Reverend Foreman that you would help with the distribution.”

The boy wasn’t listening anymore. His plan had already begun. First, the bathroom. Cameron entered silently, taking extra caution as he closed the door so that it wouldn’t creak. He glanced at the mirror, checking his appearance one last time before reaching in his bag for the perfume Jonas offered to him at the very beginning of their relationship. Cameron initially planned to wear it near Delilah’s friends later this evening, and receive all sorts of compliments from them. Then, he would have revealed the fragrance’s origin as a gift from his admirer in front of all, tarnishing the proud reputation that his adoptive mother had built of him as the perfect Catholic child she had so successfully raised. He would be punishing her for what she did to him. But it didn’t seem worth the effort anymore.

The ginger boy was almost ready. His shaking hand spilled the prescription on the ground immediately after he grabbed the tubes from the locker. He picked them up quickly and left, headed for his own territory. Cameron warped through the hall and retreated in his bedroom. Once inside, he rushed to his desk, swiped away all the broken electronic devices littering its surface, and emptied his backpack. He then went to lower the blinds completely, and switched the radio on his way. Music has always been a remedy for when he was downhearted. Cameron would tune into a metal station and turn the volume so loud that he wouldn’t hear nor feel anything but the melody of the guitars chiming in his ears and the vibrations of the drums echoing in his chest.

The adolescent grabbed a few candles from a drawer underneath his bed that he disposed and lit across his room, like some sort of ritual. The scented flames quickly filled the atmosphere with smells of cinnamon and vanilla. Cameron removed his shoes and placed them in his closet, near the wrecks of some old computers. He jumped on his spring mattress and sat cross-legged, standing immobile for an instant as to appreciate the peacefulness of his safe place one last time.

He grabbed the glass on the nightstand and stretched his arm further to reach the bottle of apple juice. He took the medicines from his pocket, and opened the fluoxetine. The boy extracted a first pill and dropped it into the drink. He added a second, third, and even a fourth one. When the tube was empty, he switched to the next. As he was mixing drugs from all four prescriptions, Cameron wondered: Is this the right thing to do?

But nothing else came to mind, and he was tired of fighting against a society that was barely considering him as a human being. All that he wanted was a guiding light, to help him steer his destiny wherever he needed it to be. His head was filled with the increasing loneliness he had been feeling for the past years. It started driving him away from life a few days ago, coincidentally knocking him off reality. The only person who could have rescued Cameron from this dreadful decadence was his father. The prodigious son would soon be joining him. As he slowly raised the glass to his mouth, Cameron’s right hand shook heavily. Making the leap wasn’t as easy as it seemed.

My arm becomes numb as my life flashes before my eyes. The paralysis swiftly propagates through my entire body. The glass is up. I can feel the cold, deadly poison at my lips, ready to enter at any time.

Everything around me fades out. The radio jams. It goes haywire, buzzing, hopping from station to station, before settling down moments later. A rhythm breaks into the heavy atmosphere as lightning tears into the darkness. I think I’m becoming blind. All I can do is listen to the melody, spending what could be the last seconds of my existence noticing something special about the singer’s voice. His pitch—every note is full of intensity. The lyrics echo in my head, as if he were standing right in front of me. It’s like a portal to another dimension. I feel him, his whole soul. I can almost touch him.

Delilah breaks the door open. The poison still too close to penetrating my body, she jumps at me, snatches the glass away from my hand, and throws it as far as she can behind her. She holds me against her. So tight that I can hear her heart beat fast. The fog dissipates. I start seeing my room again.

“Cameron, my beautiful little boy. What have you done?” she asks, sobbing. “I’m so sorry.”

“I haven’t drunk yet,” I put on an emotionless tone.

She sighs deeply. For the first time in years, I let tears run down my face.

“I’ll change. I promise. We’ll spend more time together. We’ll start clean, out of that awful town.”

As far as I remember, Delilah always hated Asbury. She quickly relapsed and turned asocial after dad’s accident, getting angry at everyone who came by the house to show their support as we were mourning. Similar to mime, her pain didn’t disappear. It merely eased through the years.

“Tomorrow, we’ll see a psychiatrist.”

I nod slowly, my head against her chest. I never really felt the love of a mom. My father explained when I was little that my mother died after giving birth to me. He also stressed that she were sick, and that it wasn’t my fault. Seeing me alive every day reminded him of her, which was a blessing.

Although Delilah isn’t exactly related to me, she certainly knows how to dispense this placating maternal effect that she only offers in drops.

From the car’s windows, the streets look different. People aren’t staring at me the way they do when I’m riding my bike. They seem more distant—not that we usually talk much, we mostly greet each other.

Today, Delilah and I have an appointment with Dr. Anna Sun, her therapist. I’m still not sure whether this is a good idea or if it will change anything at all, but with what happened yesterday, she didn’t give me much of a choice. After she stormed in my room, we both walked downstairs and had ice cream. We settled on the couch and ate, bite after bite, in front of one of these family movies. Although she didn’t say a word, I could tell a lot was going through her mind. When I woke up this morning, she didn’t seem angry at all, rather... changed. I’m not sure what happened. I guess I will find out soon.

Delilah takes the shortcut to skip the usual jams. Cool. I look at the dashboard—almost nine. If I’m not mistaken, Thomas is playing at the soccer tournament today. Even if we’re not stopping, catching a glimpse of him would cheer me up. Thomas is a senior student from Asbury’s music school, with whom we share a library. I met him at a seminar where he was presenting the history of jazz. He’s extremely talented. Whenever he sits at the piano in the hall around lunch time, I can’t help but stand there and listen to him striking the keys, hypnotized by his beautiful blond hairs, by his rhythm. I let the notes run in my ears and through my head, the chords vibrate in my chest.

I always wanted to talk to him and get to learn what he likes to do for fun, what’s his favorite sports team, his food tastes... The kind of discussions normal people have. Although I feel we’re living in completely separate worlds. For starters, I’m not sure he’d appreciate being seen with me, a calculus nerd fond of science and electronics that only has a handful of friends—acquaintances, actually. Anyways. I promised to myself that, one day, I would defeat my fears and have a walk with him.

When the traffic light changes aspect, Delilah takes the left turn towards Stadium Street. Nine. The tournament must have begun. Just a few feet closer, and I’ll be able to see the field. Thomas’s team, the Black Tigers, is playing against the Flaming Roses from Fairview, a bigger city that’s a 40-minute drive. I remember hearing him at the gym say that he was looking into maybe joining them if he made it to college. Thomas is a very serious and implicated student. Whenever I finish my day at the university, I usually take the small seaside exit that runs next to the library, offering a direct view on the large glass panel of the building. I often see him there. He must be spending an important part of his evening there—I once came back two hours after the last class to fetch a lab work and caught him reading the same volume on musicology.

“What’s on your mind?”

Delilah’s question gets me off my fantasy.

“Not much,” I answer before asking back, “You?”

“I’m trying to understand where I failed.”

I have to admit that I’m a bit ashamed of the way I treated her for the past weeks. She might be against my feelings, but she’s still my only family. And she loves me... I think? No, I’m sure.

“What happened yesterday—it’s not your fault.”

“Of course I’m guilty. You’re the only thing that keeps me alive on this insane planet. I can’t lose you too!”

I did not see that coming.

“Well, I was just... wondering if a friend of mine was playing at the tournament.”

“Do you want to stop for a minute?”

“No. That’s not necessary. We are... acquaintances.”

“Is it a boy?”


I can almost hear it coming out of her mouth...

“What’s his name?”


I turn to her. She hasn’t said the s-word yet. Instead, she seems preoccupied. My right leg starts shaking frenetically.

“We don’t have to talk about it.”

“Actually, I think we do.”

She stops the car by the side of the road, and takes a deep breath.

“Cameron, God loves everyone who is ready to repent from their sins,” she asserts. “I’m your mother and my role is to protect you. I do not wish to see you denied salvation because of some mistakes you made as a kid.”

There we go again. She pauses. I don’t react.

“I understand that it’s not easy for you. I still think Reverend Foreman can help you. You’re not alone. A lot of young adults feel the same way. It happens. What matters is how you deal with it.”

“But I don’t want to ‘deal’ with it! This is who I am. Something else is wrong with me.”

“Oh, honey. There is nothing wrong with you. The Lord will forgive you, but please, you have to promise me that you won’t do anything stupid ever again.”

I might as well nod and end this useless conversation. She will never change.

“Yesterday was not just about boys.”

She pauses again, probably thinking about what she’ll put next.

“I’m not asking you to change right now. I just want you to hear what I’m trying to tell you.”

Delilah starts the engine and drives off, as I silently watch the stadium fade away in the rear mirror. A thought shifts in my spirit, quickly dismissed. No, I am not a sinner.

We arrive in Fairview about an hour later, despite the light traffic. Delilah parks next to a giant building with large windows, in which Dr. Sun’s office is located. It’s not the first time I come around this particular street. At some point, I used to hang out with folks from my hockey team. Yet, I’m always impressed to see these colossal buildings dominate the atmosphere. Skyscrapers. From where I stand, down on the ground, it feels pretty literal.

“Let’s go?”

For a minute, I almost forgot the purpose of our trip. We pull the tall doors of number twenty-five and walk straight to the reception. A young woman with a subtle, light cyan hair gradient, welcomes us.

“Hi, good morning! How may I help you?”

I cannot stop looking at her shirt. These abstract, wavy white and black stripes are amazing. I’ve never seen such a fancy dress before.

“Hello. We have an appointment with Anna Sun.”

Delilah always does the talking. She’s quicker to come up with a greeting. I need time to figure something on my own.

I’m staring at the receptionist and wonder if her shirt would suit me too. I really like it. She looks pretty in it. I’m not a fashionista but I do enjoy good apparel!

“Dr. Sun’s office is on the eighth floor. You can take the elevator at the end of the hall.”

“Thank you,” replied Delilah.

The woman grins at me. For some reason I’d like to wink, but that’d be rude.

I respond back with a simple, forced smile. Being claustrophobic, I’m de facto not a big fan of lifts. Usually, I would have insisted to walk upstairs, but given Delilah’s state of mind today, I will bear with my fear. From what I read, it’s actually the best way to overcome phobia.

As I enter the cabin, I immediately grip the wooden railing as tight as I can. It definitely won’t save me if we crash, but it does feel comforting. The doors slide closed and the engine starts pulling us to the top.

First floor. I’m holding on firmly. Please let it be prompt.

Second floor. I think I heard a metallic sound. Probably the cables. I grip tighter.

Third floor. As we continue our ascension, I discern a group of people talking. It’s okay, we’re almost there.

Sixth floor. How come we’ve been here for more than thirty seconds? This can’t be normal.

Seventh floor. The cabin shakes. I close my eyes and try to focus on something else, but the clinking noise is too loud.

Eighth floor. The bell rings. My heart is pacing very fast. I’m short of breathe. I need a second.

“Are you alright?”

I never told Delilah about this. I don’t want her to see me as weak. Instead, I’d like her to think that I can handle literally anything, like a not-sick man. One step forward and I’m out of the metallic monster.

Dr. Sun is standing in the hall, waving at us.

“Good morning, Miss Blake. Hi, Cameron!”

She never could pronounce my name right. Whenever she speaks to me, I always feel as if she’s really talking to a kid. It’s not just the expression she uses—it’s her tone.

“Unless you object, I’d like to start with Cameron today,” she asserts. “You can wait in the room here. Oh—we recently installed a vending machine by the window down the hall, should you need any refreshment.”

“That’s perfect. Thank you, doctor!”


She smiles and invites me to get inside. Dr. Sun’s office looks more like a living room. The color scheme is a mix of red and brown, and she has few furniture. A sofa with a pair of gray cushions, an exotic oak desk in front of her lofty chair, and a couch for sleep therapy. Various paintings are hung—abstract for the most part, except for the one behind her. It looks like a mill?

The two shelves standing on each side are filled with a lot of books. From anthropology, to the physical principles of quantum thinking. Every subject has its own section, sorted alphabetically.

“Take a sit,” she invites.

I head straight to the sofa. It’s comfortable and, more importantly, far from her. That may sound counterproductive, but I really don’t like being probed. Especially when it’s a therapist.

“How are you feeling today, Cameron?”

To be fully honest, I’d rather be someplace else. Getting back around this avenue made me realize how much I’m missing hockey sessions. My team is amazing. We’re like a family. When we’re together, nothing can stop us.

“I was surprised when your mother told me that you’ve been going through some rough waters recently. It seemed to me that a smart boy, early on his time like you are, would already be prepared to handle the toughest situations and never hesitate to ask for help when his energy isn’t sufficient to fight on his own.”

I don’t answer. I know this game—she’s complimenting me only to make me feel better and get me to cooperate.

“Actually, since you’re here, I’m having difficulties figuring something that I’m sure you know about. Perhaps you could explain it to me?”

Maybe some other day.

“Every time I watch ice hockey, I’m wondering—how can a stick stop the puck? If I throw a rock against a wooden object, like a trunk, it always bounces back. Why is that?”

Simple—when we catch the puck, we actually absorb the energy of the impact by letting it push the stick back slightly.

“We can also discuss something else. Whatever is on your mind—even one word—is fine. I’m sure you have a lot of fascinating anecdotes to tell.”

As I said, I don’t feel comfortable talking to a therapist.

“I understand if you don’t want to speak first. I can start, and then hand it over to you. This morning, before coming to the office, I spent a few minutes in my kitchen. Cooking helps flush all my negative thoughts away.”

Interesting. I like to cook too. Nothing extraordinary, though. Delilah barely notices it.

“Do you often make your own dishes?”

Well, last week when I got back from school and wasn’t really in the mood for homework, I decided to make a tajine out of the remaining vegetables in the refrigerator. I added chicken and a few spices I bought from the market months ago.

“Do you like Indian food?”

It’s actually my favorite cuisine. Generally speaking, I like what’s piquant.

Anna is taking a lot of notes. Probably about me. She must be decrypting my reactions. I never spent time with her as a patient before. I only saw her when Delilah was consulting because of her alcohol issues. I must admit, she does make me feel fairly more comfortable than the other therapists.

“Do you like playing chess?”

I do. I actually love puzzles and logic games. Collecting clues, solving riddles... Like tracking the one line causing a bug in a computer software. Recently, I even found myself having fun reading historic criminal cases and guessing who, among a handful of suspects, was the culprit.

A large volume on her shelf, The Principles of Quantum Thinking, draws my attention.

“You can borrow the book after the session if you want.”

I’m appalled. How did she notice my stealthy look?

“So, it seems that Cameron is more a left-brainer, although something tells me you’re far more attracted to artists. Am I right?”

Did she just read my thoughts and saw Thomas? She’s impressive—and quite frankly, frightening. Too late to hide anything now. Let’s wait for her next reaction.

“It’s very enriching to be friends with a person who is our opposite. We can take pleasure in speaking with them. In doing so, we often discover a completely different point of view of the same subject. In fact, mutual learning and appreciation is one of the most important pillars of our society.”

Probably. Only I haven’t talked to him yet.

My leg starts pacing up and down again.

“How does Delilah feel about your friend?”

Oh no, did she already connect the dots with Delilah? I’ve got to hold my composure.

“You know, Cameron, your mother is only trying to protect you. Even if, at times, it may seem that she’s overstepping your privacy. What’s important for you to realize is that you—and only you—are in full control of your own choices. Not me. Not Delilah. No-one else.”

A car’s horn outside in the street suddenly catches my attention. I thought I heard tire squeal too. Was there an accident? Something must be happening. Could it be a pedestrian collision? A crash? A carjacking? Hit-and-run? My brain runs through all possible scenarios, actively trying to avoid a painful subject.

“There’s no shame in having feelings for a person. No matter their differences.”

I turn back and face her. What did she just say? I guess was preoccupied.

“I have a few male patients, some of your age, who’re engaged in a relationship with another man,” she reveals. “This is perfectly normal. Every person’s feelings are different.”

Delilah would definitely argue against that. Interesting. I thought she’d have told Dr. Sun to try and dissuade me.

“You have the right to be attracted to boys, and even to get intimate. Just make sure to stay safe.”

No! Shut up. DON’T GO THERE!

“Can we stop talking about that?” I ask bluntly.

She seems surprised to hear me, yet she nods.

“Sure. Is there something specific you would like to discuss with me?”

I don’t answer. She almost got me!

Seconds pass. A minute of complete silence.

“You don’t have to use your voice. What’s important to me is that our time together sheds a light on the darkness that may be occupying your world.”

That’s deep. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She hasn’t seen my inner demons. She hasn’t seen him. Nobody ever did—for the best.

“I’m following another patient who also has Asperger’s and often reminds me of you. When we started the therapy years ago, he thought he didn’t belong to this planet.”


“Everyone was staring at him, talking behind his back. He once mentioned that, while he understood their sentences, it seemed to him that there were more than just words in their exchange.”

I’m listening to what she says with careful attention. I actually feel the same. I’m not sure if she’s making this up as a way to help me, but I’m curious to see how her story ends.

“He went through some very dark periods too. Other students were frequently mocking him as he was trying to argue and defend himself. One day, a handful of them cornered him between two walls. He was surrounded, and couldn’t escape.”

She just described very precisely, and almost exactly, what occurred to me last week at Duquesne.

“He felt so vulnerable that, on his way home, he swore to never let anyone get as physically close to him again. Even if that meant hurting people.”

What happened next?

“I worked with him through a custom therapy to see how we could construct something that would shield him from others yet allow loved ones inside the fortress that he had erected in response to that difficult event.”

She stands and makes one step towards me. I roll my legs up against my chest. She gets the message and don’t come any further.

“It’s very important to realize that, once the fortress is built, it’s not easy to make an opening in the walls. We eventually managed to accommodate for a small door, wide enough to let only good people in, and keeping others out. He met his girlfriend shortly after our last session. They got married two years ago, and are now expecting their first child.”

I haven’t thought about it this way. I did build my own fortress after the accident, and always felt safe behind those big, thick walls. But now, I’m lonely. How come I never realized this before?

“Sometimes, hiding is not the best solution. It’s necessary, for our wounds to heal, but we need to come back and win the war. Don’t give up, Cameron.”

How? I feel stuck.

“The first step is to acknowledge our situation. It’s not easy, but is crucial. Then, finding professional stability—landing a job. This will allow you to build lasting connections with colleagues, who can help you move on from painful experiences on the personal side,” she advises. “It doesn’t have to be incredible or pay much. It should, however, make you feel good, and safe.”

Nobody would ever want me as an employee. I would scare the customers away. I can’t not speak my mind. This is something that has frequently brought me trouble.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of when asking for a job. You won’t lose anything in trying, and will always get at least one key takeaway.”

I never thought of working before. I wonder what that would look like. Every day, after classes? Hm... there’s Charles’s hardware store by the bridge, where I like to go. It’s halfway home, halfway school. If they happen to have any opening, it would be very practical!

Dr. Sun comes back to her desk. She’s standing up against it, facing me.

“Well. We have a little more than fifteen minutes left today. I know something we could do, and I think you might just like it.”

What is it?

“It’s called hypnosis. It’s used to induce a willing person into an altered state of consciousness, only to help them relax unlike what the radio says. It allows one to concentrate on a deep thought, without any environmental distraction. What’s important to know is that the subject is in control at all times—never the therapist. My role is to lead you to this state of trance. The rest is up to you.”

That’s why she has so many books on the human consciousness!

“Hypnosis isn’t an exact science. It might not give you what you want, although it will always provide what you need. Most of the time—relaxation, and the ability to let go. For example, it helped my other patient figure out how to stay safe by maintaining order at the fortress’s door,” she explains. “Would you like to try?”

I’m not sure. This state of “altered consciousness” sounds like a big deal. Although it also looks fun. I guess she wouldn’t be mentioning it unless she sees a value.


She grabs one of the two chairs, moves it closer to the couch, and sits in front of me.

“Before we start, I need to tell you a few things. First, I want to remind you that you’ll have complete control throughout the session. You can decide to stop and wake up at any time. It’s also important that you trust me. I’m your therapist, my job is to make you feel better. Last but not least, I can’t solve anything on your behalf. I will, however, accompany you on your way.”

Anna pauses to observe my reactions.

“Have you ever had lucid dreams?”

I shake my head.

“Hypnotic trance looks similar to them. It’s very close to what you experience when you’re asleep, except that you are able to move within the subconscious world. You’ll feel lighter—some people even see themselves floating. I will guide you through. You can choose to listen to my voice, or to explore on your own. Last but not least, when you wake up, you may not remember anything. This is normal. The deeper the trance, the fewer details you will be able to recount.”

She stops again, giving me some time to think.

“Are you ready?”

This really looks like a big deal. But I don’t see how this could hurt me. Like she said, I am in control.

“I am.”

Anna removes her shoes and raises her feet on the seat, up against her chest.

“Make yourself comfortable. You can lie down on the couch if you want.”

I extend my legs and turn around to get into a more relaxed position.

“You can stretch your limbs and take a deep breath, even yawn.”

She inhales slowly, and blows out peacefully.

“Is there a specific place that you like, that makes you feel safe?”

I think for a second, but nothing really comes to mind.

“It’s fine if you don’t have one,” she comforts.

Anna pauses again.

“Have you ever had a hot air balloon trip?”


But something tells me I’m about to.

“Alright. You can start looking around the room for a fixed point. It could be a shape, an object, a painting...”

What defines a point? Does an edge count?

“Once you found one, you can inspect it further. Try to see all of its details.”

Wait, I still don’t...

I glance around me and notice this strange piece of art on the wall. It resembles a wooden animal skull. I suppose I can use what seems like an eye socket?

“Very good. Keep looking at your object. Try to imagine how it would feel in your palm. Is it smooth? Warm?”

She begins to talk slower and softer.

“Whenever you’re ready, you can close your eyes.”

I’m still staring at the skull. Somehow, I’m able to sense its surface without even touching it!

I perceive a vibration inside my body. I close my eyes.

“You’re doing well,” she murmurs. “You are bound for great things, Cameron. Far more than you imagine.”

I’m still not convinced, but her warm, overwhelming presence seems to unlock something, deep inside of me. My thoughts start fading away. A gleam emerges from the clouds in front of me. Am I flying?

“Follow the voice. It will guide you to the cities of light, where your destiny awaits.”

She pauses.

“They will be looking for you. When in doubt, trust the Outsider. His motives are pure, Cameron. He’s an ally.”

I feel her voice in the distance, but I can’t hear what she says. My mind is already elsewhere, at a much better place. A large city, floating peacefully in the skies, where all of its citizens live in harmony, away from the ground, from all troubles.

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