Chan eyed Lasker, but said nothing. He had seen Asian mediums seem to carry on conversations with the departed. He remembered a particular incident when he was a child on a rice farm not far from the Emperor’s City. The city, fabled, over-powering in its size, was the home of the Chinese emperors. The houses for servants and laborers, not protected by the massive walls, were often plagued by the ghosts of fallen warriors or the spirits of young women raped and butchered after being used by the royalty and the massive legions of men that served them. He had heard his mother just before she fell on a sword, screaming at someone invisible that she would never submit to his desires no matter who he might be. And though he had not heard the ghost’s words, the laughter as his mother’s blood spread across the sleep mat, had echoed with him every night in the fifteen years since she had died.
Dr. Lasker theorized that Chan’s sensitivity was the result of his exposure to the demonic ghost at such a young point in his life. But what to Lasker was a gift, to Chan was a curse, for every nightmare was the same, a young boy watching his mother deliberately forcing her body to lower itself inch by fraction of an inch onto her husband’s great sword, blood dripping to the bed mat. While Dodd had been more sensitive, Chan seemed better able to cope with his
gift/curse…at least for now, Lasker thought, wondering how long a true sensitive could last against all the terrible pressures they are exposed to in their search for something none of them could ever reach, the complete resolution of the frightening situations that had given them their
gift in the first place. Their destruction is inevitable, Lasker reasoned, so why not employ them to help others for as long as their power can be harnessed? Ectos, true Ectos, were doomed to die early in life, either because their past catches up with them with tragic results, or through mental meltdown from the accumulative effects of their supernatural contact, the burden of carrying so much grief and horror. Lasker knew and accepted that in turn each of his ‘assistants’ , including the beautiful Shelly, would be burnt out by the experience dictated by their ‘gift’.
Dodd, the most sensitive of all his twenty years of assistants, had crashed badly, much as Lasker had expected. He had tried to prolong the young man’s employment, but the erratic behaviors had grown worse, endangering other Ectos and the department. Almost a year earlier, Dodd had warned Chan that a new girl would soon be arriving, a girl who though disarmingly beautiful, was nothing but a selfish schemer who wanted to take their place. He had heard voices telling him that this young woman would beguile him with her sensual behavior and then betray him before Lasker who would discard him in her favor, abandon him in this world and in the other world that called him with increasing regularity. “She will destroy my life,” he told Chan, and then she will destroy yours.”
“How can you be so certain,” Chan asked, wondering why Dodd seemed to be acting so strangely the last few months. He had seen alarming changes in his associate—he couldn’t call Dodd or any of the others a friend, except perhaps Swan because Lasker had turned them into rivals, competitors to sharpen their senses, to turn them into the Ectos he needed for his department—changes he knew were attributable to his special talents.
“Believe me, I know,” Dodd replied, “I’ve seen her. I know what she wants and what she is willing to do to attain her goals.”
“That has nothing to do with me,” Chan said.
“So I guess you want to be sent back,” Dodd said, a cruel sneer on his face.
That got Chan’s attention. “How do you know that will happen because of this girl?”
Dodd’s smile sent shivers through Chan’s body. “I’ve had dreams, many dreams. Trust me, my dreams are never wrong.”
Dodd’s dreams seemed more real than the reality through which he walked like a dazed by-stander. In those dreams he saw her only as a blond-haired, faceless, nymph, offering herself to him as he stood still, refusing to embrace her. He saw her stretching up to touch his face with her tiny hands and reaching up to give him what at first was a tentative light kiss, but soon becomes harder and more passionate. He saw her looking curiously at him with her pale blue eyes that seemed to probe his soul, asking why he wasn’t moving, why he wasn’t feeling what she was pretending to feel so hot in her body. And then he saw her undoing his shirt buttons, one button at a time, teasing him with her fingernails, one long nail pointed at his jugular so that if he moved sharply the torment would be over. That nail was so tempting… but he doesn’t move so she continues, running her fingers over his chest. He shudders and still fights the temptation of pulling her toward him, tearing off her thin blouse and crushing her breasts against him. But the voices, the visions, have told him she is malicious, out to destroy him, so he still doesn’t move, won’t let him feel anything for her but hate. Even when she drops her hand to his jeans and he feels himself rising to meet her touch, he sees this only as evidence of her evil nature, her desire to control and destroy his will. So finally when she lowers herself before him, her eyes gazing up at him to see if she has successfully cast her spell, conquered his resistance, he sees his hands drop on her lovely shoulders and he must decide whether to bring her up and press his body
against her, feel her breasts against his hard-beating heart, pull off her jeans and those lacy black panties, press himself inside her and take her as she is, standing against the wall of her dorm room, making love to her at long last, give in to her… or move his hands slowly, ever so reluctantly from those sweet shoulders to her slender neck, pull away her hair, move his hands across her flesh and gradually, so she barely notices, begin to clamp down hard on her lying throat. They were dreams that foretold her arrival, a nightmare that did not let him sleep.
He could not tell Lasker, fearing his ‘boss’ would become frightened of his paranoia and fire him. In his sickness, he did not realize Lasker had become concerned about his behaviors months earlier, and knew it was only a matter of a few months at best before he would have to take action. He tried to warn Dodd, but knew warnings were in vain once the disease attacked.
He had seen it before, but never with the intensity with which it attacked Dodd. Lasker still needed him, but Dodd was already picking up signs that the Chairman was losing patience and confidence in him, and if he found a suitable replacement, Dodd would be cast aside like so much garbage. That is what possessed him, and what he wanted to have possess Chan so he told the young Chinese student over and over again that the new ‘whore’ was incredibly ‘sensitive’, far more than anyone he had seen, except of course, himself. He worked incessantly to recruit Chan in the effort to stop her from stealing their jobs, their lives, by harping on the one thing that Chan cared more about than anything in his life. Dodd hammered into him that he could not afford to lose his job because he would be sent back to China where he would be imprisoned for the murder of his mother.
The possibility of no longer being needed by Dr. Lasker and being returned to China was frightening to Chan, and he was prepared to assist Dodd, but now, having finally met the ’new assistant, he found it hard to believe she was the threat Dodd had depicted. Not as sensitive as
Dodd, relegated to little more than serving as the cameraman for Lasker who had almost given up on his ever attaining the skills of a true Ecto, Chan had so far been spared the debilitating weight of dealing with the misery of the haunted and the haunters, a misery that was eating away at Dodd’s brain. So he told Dodd he would not do anything to hurt Shelly, and was shocked when Dr. Lasker had filled him in on her so-called ‘accidents.’ He might have suspected Dodd who he thought had become increasingly unpredictable, egotistical, narcissistic, but he didn’t consider him irrational or murderous. He never believed Dodd would take things so far, perhaps frighten her off, but kill her? Chan knew he himself could never hurt and certainly not kill anyone, not after witnessing his mother’s excruciating death. He had seen his mother’s blood gushing from her savage self-inflicted wound. In his nightmares he could still see her body writhing slowly, inch by agonizing inch, toward death on the sword. He could never subject anyone, let alone a beautiful young girl to such agony. Could Dodd? Chan didn’t think so.
Chan caught Shelly smiling at him and returned her smile with one of his own. It would be a shame, Chan thought, as he studied her innocent looking face in the mirror, if she ended up like Dodd.
Lasker had noted Chan’s concerned expression as he had been eyeing Shelly in the mirror. Not an Ecto himself, Lasker could not know what the young Chinese assistant was
thinking, but coincidentally he was thinking about Dodd himself…Dodd and Shelly, two gifted assistants, doomed by their gifts. He felt sorry for Shelly, and yes, even for Dodd. He had accepted his responsibility for what happened to the most sensitive of his Ectos, but hoped Dodd, and now Shelly, would be stronger than others who had worked with him in the past. In Dodd, he had placed as much confidence as he could ever have done. In some ways, Dodd was the son he had lost years ago in a drowning ‘accident’, both being driven mad by a gift he both envied and
hated. He had been unprepared for the death of his fourteen year old son and had hoped Dodd would be different. Now he almost wished his favorite Ecto would find the courage his son had found and just drown himself. Death, he reasoned was quick and ended David’s torment, but what Dodd was experiencing, this slow and apparently irreversible insanity, was devastatingly painful to witness. He described it in his case notes as the “gradual and complete dissolution of a once caring and loving soul into a paranoid and murderous maniac.” After the van incident, he added, “Prognosis hopeless.”