Show and Tell
The removal of one person from my life, Carl, has brought about enormous change. His death was deemed accidental by the authorities. Those of us who investigated after the police found proof of foul play. It was murder made to look like failing health. I can’t dwell on it now. I have to focus on getting back into the fold. Many moving parts depend upon me mending my military associations.
Tom drove me into the city from the house in Boston. The murder has our small community on edge. Everyone is taking more deliberate precautions. He and I had a nice long chat in the quiet seclusion of the Town car. Conversation with Tom is mentally exhausting and exactly what I needed before facing an invasive situation.
Downtown New York was in busy morning-rush mode. You can feel the fresh anxiety radiating off the bodies racing towards the invisible eight o’clock finish line. Before exiting the quiet safety of the car I snapped my handbag closed, took a long sip of my luke-warm Irish coffee and exhaled loudly.
“Remember you have to actually speak to people out there Cal. You’ll freak ’em out good if you start pouring your words in their heads.” Tom cautioned sternly, crumpling his eyebrows at me.
“Hm,” I scoffed. “Another excellent reason I’m dreading this stupid, and unnecessary appointment.”
“Try not to scare this head-shrinker away. It’s slim pickings out there for the rest of us,” he scolded. “Maybe you break her in slow.” Tom laughed as her surveyed the parking options.
“You’re firmly retired. No one cares if you’re crazy,” I pouted while fixing my lipstick. “And I only did that one lousy time. Let it go. I’ll text when I’m done.” I promised.
Tom pulled a neatly folded note from his shirt pocket. “There’s a shop that carries olive oil soaps not too far away and that bakery we like for the scones, then I’ll come back here and park, listen to the little people on the street think.” Tom always has a list of things to do that will occupy his time and make him feel as normal as possible.
“Whatever floats your boat old man. Have fun shopping. This shit-show shouldn’t take too long,” I hoped aloud.
The mandatory appointment was something I’d put off for many reasons. My last quarterly psyc eval was over six months old. My employer decided to hold my compensation hostage until I comply with all policies. I am still owed payment for my last two special projects. The stress of the untenable situation was starting to get to me and hinder the investigation into Carl’s death. I decided to put an end to the problem and play along.
The building I was headed into looked unassuming. The facade was updated over the years to keep the building looking normal. It was presented as the corporate headquarters of a data research firm but the building had been used as a low-level black site for decades.
This type of place is decorated plainly inside and seems calm and quiet enough from the street, but usually has some mildly evil people chained to the floor in the basement.
I nodded hello to a tall impressive-looking doorman. His eyes reminded me of a man I knew before. A polished receptionist with neatly pinned black hair asked who I was there to see and directed me to the fifth-floor lobby with a melodic ring in her voice.
The elevator was suggested by a hand gesture but I choose to take the stairs instead. A good jolt of endorphins from the burst of exercise would heighten my senses and make for a bit of fun.
Once I was out of eyesight I grabbed my phone. “Tom, what’s the scoop on the doorman? He looks too big to be sitting behind a desk,” I asked.
“Shit Caly, I don’t know. I’m trying to manuver this huge fucking car. Send some juice over him maybe I can tell from that.” I let a sliver of my energy rush back downstairs to the doorman before pulling it back to my body.
“Ah, you know him by touch. Someplace surrounded by sand. I think you used him as a human battery pack,“ Tom explained dryly. He sounded preoccupied by his lack of city driving skills.
“Yeah, that makes more sense. I can feel his shoulder injury. They must have him here on light duty or he diddled the wrong colonel’s wife.”
“Could have been a husband too. Remember, we must be inclusive now. Do I need to clear a spot in the trunk?” Tom asked with a serious tone.
“No,” I replied. “Just a mild curiosity, not a target,” I clarified.
“Good cause there’s a patio fire pit on sale at the store in front of me with my name on it.” Tom sounded excited about this new find.
“Wonderful news, we can burn things together later. I’m outside the office door now, wish me luck.”
“Be a good little company minion, Tom out.” Retirement has been a hard adjustment for him. I’m glad for his company but he needs real work.
I could tell by Tom’s voice that nobody had broad casted any bad thoughts about him yet today. He can hear them, people’s thoughts, it’s not a gift like some would say. His extra ability is a true curse. I pity him when he struggles and he knows it, but there is no way to hide what I think from him. That may be the biggest reason of all to pity Tom.
The fifth floor looked like rented office space. Each putty colored waiting room was decorated similarly. Useless objects and uniformly arranged furniture items were placed sparingly in each sitting area. Blue and light gray with occasional beige accents flowed as far as the eye could see. The rooms were devoid of any personality or depth.
I sat in the waiting area nearest my target office and noticed a tiny red light flicker in the opposite corner of the room. Cameras I hadn’t noticed were likely activated when I walked in the room and this camera alerted when I sat down. The sound of high heels walking on the hard floor and the jingle of a ring of keys banging against a lock came from behind the closed doors in front of me.
“Hello, I’m doctor Lina West, sorry for the wait. I’ve misplaced my key card. I’m so glad you are here.”
“Calynn,” I shook the womans thin, caramel colored hand and nodded politely. “You should report the missing key-card immediately. They hang people for lesser offenses,” I explained dryly.
“Seriously?” The young woman held the door open and leaned against it like a crutch. “ I think I left it in my other bag. I picked up a salad for dinner and the dressing spilled all over everything. I’m rambling. Here, have a seat. I was so glad to see you confirmed your appointment, after canceling the last three I wasn’t sure we would ever get a chance to meet.”
“My employment package is on hold until I comply with this last item. I guess you could say I’m unusually motivated.” I smiled at the young woman as all her private information was being hurled at me from our close interaction.
“No matter the reason. I’m glad you are here. There is so little data available from your previous therapist, it seems he didn’t take notes of your sessions or if he did no one can locate them.” Lina’s passive question fell flat. Carl never needed notes he could read your mind.
“Interesting,” I replied while draping my dark gray trench coat over the empty chair next to me.
“I think it’s safe for me to assume you don’t want to be here Misses…”
“Please no Misses anything, Calynn is just fine,” I insisted. Being someones wife wasn’t a difficult accomplishment in my experience. No title was necessary.
“Alright, Calynn. All I have in several boxes of files are pages full of redacted black lines and a single summary sheet with the phrase, exhaustive parasitic energy manipulation. I must admit I have no idea what that is.”
“Do you play the piano?,” I asked.
“No, I never took lessons,” Lina answered poised and positive with her hands calmly folded on the desk between us.
“Do you play any instrument or excel at any one particular activity?” I asked.
“I was a cheerleader in college. I like to think I excelled. Oh and I paint, but not exceptionally well. Why do you ask?”
“Explaining a new concept without context is a waste of time. Are you serious about this line of work?” I asked.
“Yes of course.” Lina sat back in her chair and folded her arms across her chest.
“No,” I shook my head. “what I’m asking is are you sure you want to be in this line of work? Here, in this kind of place with these kinds of clients?” Lina’s face went blank with confusion.
“I gave it a lot of thought, working for the Government specifically. My father has spent his entire adult life working for one branch of the military or another. He is proud of his working years.”
“Yes, I know your father, that picture on the desk with him and your mother is perhaps the only personal effect you’ve added to this entire room,” I accused, pointing at the frame on the low cabinet behind her. “Do you think your father is a happy man?” I asked looking at the picture more closely.
“I don’t see how my observations about my father are relevant to…”
“Once I dip you in the cesspool of knowledge and all the things you don’t understand about me become clear. There is no way to wash it off.” I explained settling back into my chair. “At this point, you still have a choice. You can pick up your over-sized bag, stuff your one picture frame back inside and walk out that door clean and unaware of a great many awful things.”
“What would my second choice be?” Lina responded as if we were playing a game and my questions were symptoms. I could feel a tinge of anger growing in my chest.
“I can tell you a story. Better yet I can show you what I am, but I can’t un-show you.” Readjusting my best facsimile of calm smile I reminded myself of how much back pay I was owed.
Lina leaned forward across her desk and stared at me as if proximity was the answer to all her questions. “I see a polished, professional woman. I see confidence and stress mixed with experience and exhaustion wrapped in a very stylish white suit meant to keep you arms-length from anyone who would approach you.”
“It’s oyster,” I corrected. “And it does have Kevlar mesh panels. The pants are a little thin so I needed skin-colored underwear,” I pulled at the fabric of my shirt. ” And a silk blouse to cover my body armor tank top. My belt has three knives tucked into the snake skin spine and the hollow heals of my shoes contain emergency cash and a fresh Sim card for my cell phone. But you know what? I will never need any of it,” I confessed.
“Then why do you spend the time to put all of that together every day?” She asked confused.
“It makes those who love me feel better. If I have a weakness that needs to be protected then I seem more human. Believe me, I thought I was more than human but as it turns out I am just as powerless as everyone else when it matters most.” Several situations where I had failed to change the outcome popped into my mind. I quickly pushed them back into the boxes they came from.
“So these precautions are just lies you tell to make other people more comfortable,” Lina clarified.
“The coffee in your mug is ice cold and the lenses in your glasses are clear. You don’t want a coffee house cup on your fake desk because it will make you look frivolous and you want to look smarter and older so you got those ugly glasses, ” I scoffed. ” Aren’t those lies meant to make people more comfortable?”
“So your enhanced ability is observation related?” Lina asked
A genuine smile spread warm and fast across my face. “You shook my hand, a fatal mistake with people like me. I have gloves with me, not too suspicious of a woman my age to hide her hands from the sun, but I wanted to touch you and see what you are all about. It’s not merely an observation on my part. It’s intrusive and you had no real choice in the matter. You could have refused my hand and risked a social misstep I suppose.”
“I really don’t understand,” Lina responded.
“I can appreciate that,” I conceded.
“I want to understand,” Lina clarified.
“What I control is death. It’s a simple word and lacks all nuance but it is accurate. Even here you are asking me to explain and that explanation will kill the innocence inside you. Your understanding of the world will be changed. Are you prepared for that to happen today?” I asked earnestly.
“Totally,” Lina gushed. “I want to have the information I need to help you.” Lina smiled and again her clinical tone that told me she was counting my answer as a symptom.
“Help me?” I laughed enough to bring a tear to my eye. “Hm, I don’t know why people are always trying to help me. Alright, let’s try some visual learning since we are on the clock.” Lina had the wide-eyed look on her face that I have come to know well. She was pushing past her rational fears and reaching for the next rung on the ladder of possibilities.
“Can you sit here on the couch Doctor?” Away from the windows is what I meant. Lina sat on the first tufted couch cushion and grabbed on tightly to the rolled arm.
I sat on a solo chair situated in front of the desk, opened my purse, grabbed a clove cigarette and my lighter and lit the end. Lina moved forward in protest but caught herself before speaking. I took a deep breath and let the pungent smoke swirl in my lungs before exhaling into the room. “Show yourselves to our friend Lina, ” I commanded. Four small shadows took form on the floor at my feet. Lesser demons nothing too lively was needed today.
“Boo Boo can you join for a few minutes?” A male form shimmered in the edges of the dissipating smoke. I took another drag through the dark brown cigarette and blew a refreshing layer of clove cloud over the top of my growing group of friends.
Lina gasped. “What, is , going, on?” She panted out each word as she sank further back into the couch.
“I need more than smoke if you want her to see me, Caly.” Boo Boo held out his hand. I slid my palm over his fingers. A bit of my skin went missing but he evolved from a thin smoky shadow that could be explained away to solid image back-lit by the sun pouring in from the windows across the room.
“Oh my God, Oh my God,” Lina chanted the words in hushed tones as if her life depended on the cadence and volume.
“Lina, this is Boo Boo. You can touch him, he’s solid when I give him some of my mass.” I motioned for the small mist creatures to stay at the chair while I walked over to Lina with Boo Boo on my arm.
“Caly, she’s not into this right now.” Boo Boo ran his free hand through his thick blond hair and rested it on the waist of his jeans. He materialized shirtless and shoeless wearing only a pair of light blue jeans that matched his eye color nicely.
“You, trapped the spirit of a teenage boy?” Lina asked gathering a bit more structure and bile in her voice.
I waved my scratched hand into the light confirming I had replaced all my missing skin. “No, he’s much older than I am and free to leave at any time. Boo Boo found me,” I protested. “He’s an attachment” The disbelief in Lina’s face was changing to fear and approaching anger. “Boo Boo, can you put on a shirt and look a bit older so I don’t look like a pedophile.”
“Yeah, yeah. Let me see what I can do,” Boo Boo whined. His image darkened. There was a quiet moment in the room, the sounds of low persistent growling coming from the mist creatures overpowered the rusting noises Boo Boo was making with his over-exaggerated attempt to pull a shirt from thin air.
“Now that I have them here.” I pointed at the tangled mass of dark swirling matter at my feet. “What would you like me to do with them?” I asked the noticeably trembling woman on the couch below me.
“What? What do you mean? Nothing, I don’t want you to do anything with them.” Lina protested.
“You see that’s the issue, not me and how crazy I may or may not be, but what do you want me to do. I can send the mist creatures after someone, to observe or to kill them. But I can kill easily enough on my own. I don’t need any help. The same force that allows me to pull all of them into our space allows me to rip the air out of someone’s lungs or the blood from their heart. It’s just a matter of focus,” I explained.
“Awe come-on Cal, she’s freaked out enough already.” Boo Boo added a button-down Cuban shirt with colorful embroidered tiki girls dancing down the stripes and pair of leather sandals to his ensemble. “This is as old as I have ever gotten. Lina is it? Come dance with me, it’s going to be just fine, Doll.” Boo Boo whispered his compelling voice towards Lina she was noticeably affected.
Lina grabbed the couch arm tightly and then let go, she stood and straightened her suit coat never once taking her eyes off Boo Boo.”Okay,” Lina replied extending her hand towards Boo Boo. “Oh my God.”
“Yep, I used to get that a lot, usually when I was learning to surf.” Boo Boo said jokingly. He took Lina’s hand and twirled her through the room. The sound of big band music hung softly in the air around them.
“You were human?” Lina’s voice had returned to normal. You could see the wheels turning in her brain. She made it over the hill of denial to acceptance and found her curiosity starving for answers.
“Yeah, Pearl. Pretty sure my last body is fish food. It was a bad death. Wait, actually, my last body died the day Calynn was born. It was a very short life. All I could feel was fire. This hot, hot, pain on my skin. She was this tiny, pink screaming dot. I could hear her, but I could feel her really deep inside my head. I could grab the sound. It was the only thing that stopped the fire. I clung to it and I haven’t let go yet.”
“That’s just awful. I’m so sorry.” Lina dropped her head on Boo Boo’s shoulder and began to cry.
“Don’t cry for me Doll, I’m off to play a video game with my man Colt in Lancaster later today and probably dinner in Boston with Cal. Maybe kill a terrorist later in the week. I’m doing good.” Boo Boo held Lina’s face in his hands and wiped the tears from her cheeks with a soft brush of his thumb.
I put my hand on Boo Boo’s arm. “Thanks for dropping everything for me today. I’ll keep you updated on the schedule.” I knew his time was fading. I could see sunlight through his once solid form.
“Just call my name, Darlin. I’ll be there.” Boo Boo winked at me, grabbed my hand tightly with his last moment of mass and vanished into the sunlight.
Lina still stood in the middle of the room, half the distance closer to the mist creatures than she was before. She clutched her arms across her chest and then pointed one finger at the floor. “How long do they stick around?”
“That is the million-dollar question. I started out with one little piggy. Then I had three for quite some time. Now I have four. They have never been alive and they are always with me. Only a few people have ever seen them without me making them visible,” I explained.
Lina walked back to the couch. I sat down on the coffee table across from her. “I know people that can remove your memory of today. I can call and get one of them over here if you would like to forget,” I offered quietly.
“No, I will keep today. It’s been terrifying but I want to stay. I want to stay here and help people like you that need me,” Lina protested.
“Okay then, how do we start?” I asked. Carl could read my mind. This woman was going to be exhausting to communicate with.
“Your file has nothing useful to me. The huge gaps in your time line just bring up more questions. Can you tell me how this all started for you?”
“The beginning. No, that is something I don’t talk about ever,” I explained.
“Where did your little friends go?” Lina asked, pulling her legs towards the safety of the couch frame.
“The smoke is gone, you can’t see them anymore.” I explained.
“But the smoke was long gone for a while before they disappeared,” Lina corrected.
“You got me, I don’t really need the smoke. Your father passed out the first time I just let them all appear out of thin air. I didn’t think we had that kind of time today.” Using my best game show hostess impression I waved my hand over the empty air. Lina looked at me with her eyes wide. What little color she had, drained from her face.
“From what I can piece together you were in a program, then you vanished only to resurface in a different program. The two programs only tie because the same number from your original file appears on new records from a series of undocumented missions. Does that sound partially correct?”
“Yes, that is impressive from a file full of black lines. The trip back inside those programs was especially difficult.”
“Was there a day or an event that separated what came before and this trip back inside?” Lina asked with great interest.
“Sure there was. I remember the happiness I felt back then. The ignorance was blissful. I was bored, but I didn’t know about poltergeists, or the attachments I have, or the demons that want to control me, or the other gifted that want me dead,” I chuckled, everything was so complicated, how would I ever explain these things to her.
“Forget the rest, for now. I want to know about that one day. There’s no one else today. Everyone canceled on me.” Lina kicked off her shoes and sat crossed-legged on the couch armed with a pad of paper and a pen.
“If you write any of this down they will send somebody much like me to take it from you,” I explained.
Lina dropped the pad and her pen to the floor, grabbed a throw pillow from the corner of the couch, and clutched it to her stomach. “Okay, I’m ready.”
Lina and I talked for a few minutes until Tom texted me. “Do you need a plastic tarp?”
“No, I’ll be down in 15,” I replied. I needed two minutes to fix the doorman’s shoulder.
“Can you come back next week,” Lina asked. “ Wait, I have an exercise that might help you until then.” Nina raced to her desk and pulled a photocopy from a drawer and handed it to me. “Even if there is something you won’t share with me. Try this. Think of it as homework.”
“I’ll make time to come back, besides after a few days your brain will tell you that you imagined all of this,” I explained. Lina chuckled nervously.
I handed her one of my private business cards reserved for cash clients and friends. “Call me when that happens. I’ll know if you’re ready for more.”