"You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.¹ You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you.² How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground. For you have said in your heart: I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest side of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High. Yet you shall be brought down to hell?³"
(1. Ezekiel 28:12 2. Ezekiel 28:15 3. Isaiah 14:12-15)
And He said to them, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven."
?God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment?
(II Peter 2:4)
For having been given free will in the moment of their creation, the orders of angels had the capacity to make choices. Among these was that of entertaining pride and ambition. It is said that one even went so far as to ascend in aspirations to enter heaven by right of his own will and become the equal of God, to usurp His prerogative of Creation, and to take a station above all other angels. For this, God banished Lucifer from heaven, throwing him down into hell, and with him fully a third of the angels, being those who had followed in the footsteps of his rebellion. These became numbered in latter days as demons under the dominion of Satan. And having lost heaven, what greater misery could follow a fallen angel down the ages?
The soft footfalls of sensible shoes marked a purposeful stride down a length of gray linoleum tiles, whispering past a background of snuffling, guilty shuffling, nervous giggles, and random mumbling. Beyond reinforced glass panes in heavy, locked doors, someone couldn't stop scratching. Someone ceaselessly rearranged bedding. A catatonic someone was staring past a muted TV. Near the door, someone was masturbating and softly sobbing. And someone very close declaimed in a twitter, "My lices and livers, luncheon?the magpie," followed by a sly, knowing chuckle, ("argh, argh, argh,").
"Such similar white walls," she mused, "though they feel so different here."
Maybe the very same Sherwin-Williams latex that graced the aged sheet rock she was passing had also brightened the interior of Gallerie Francoise. Perhaps the contrast in atmosphere was partially due to the gallery's tungsten spotlights, versus the weak sunlight sifting through wire-reinforced panes under banks of overhead florescent lights. Perhaps it had to do with the contrast between the creative visions and the desperate delusions the two buildings displayed within their white walls, usually with mutual exclusivity.
When Kerry Walsh thought about it, she recognized a superficial symmetry, for in each case individuals had personalized the landscapes their senses reported. In each case reality had been reinterpreted. But beyond that generality, actions diverged through intent. There was either creative synthesis or anxious coping, practiced action or provoked reaction, intentional outreach or disassociative withdrawal, and sometimes, transcendent beauty or stark terror.
Last night's opening for Sharon Crane's show had been impressive, even though Kerry had already seen every painting. What had been the second bedroom in the home they shared had become the abode of palette and brush, stretcher and easel, pigment and vehicle. They'd torn a hole in the ceiling for a skylight and knocked out most of the south wall for windows. Now it was a realm scented with gesso, linseed oil, and turpentine. At home Kerry was the first to see Sharon's images take colors while they listened to Paganini, Bach, and Pachabel as she sipped her wine. Yet somehow there was always something grander about the canvases when they were hung and lit in a gallery while patrons regarded them as they sipped their wine.
Presentation?it's all about presentation. Her lover's signature phrase tickled Kerry's inner ear, coaxing forth a grin despite the dismal hallway. Sharon repeated that litany like an echolalic mantra whenever a show deadline approached. She became focused in a monomaniacal frenzy before an exhibition, much as Kerry had before exams during med school. But presentation was also a clinical term for the exhibition of symptoms, and that was the professional context in which young Dr. Walsh related to the word. On the wards, it was all about presentation.
Maybe there was less of a mismatch in their relationship, a psychiatric intern and an aspiring artist, than most people outside of it realized. Kerry Walsh had become accustomed to critiquing the products of both art and insanity. She'd come to believe that the difference wasn't so much in the presentation as it was about the nature of the story being told. Sharon could be a nut at times, but she was definitely sane. It was her well-functioning relationship with reality that allowed her to create as she did.
Kerry walked around a nurse's station that stood in the hallway and entered a room with half-height glass walls. She swung the public address microphone aside on its flexible gooseneck and hoisted herself up on the counter next to the room's only occupant. The senior psychiatric nurse was watching a bank of monitors, but she looked up and removed her glasses. She gave Kerry a motherly smile as she watched the young doctor pull back her pale, wavy hair and gather it, the familiar Celtic Knot barrette held between her teeth.
"Kerry, how was your vacation?" The nurse asked once she saw the younger woman settle herself. "It's good to have you back."
"It's good to be back, Janice. I'll call the vacation restful since we stayed home. Sharon was finishing up for that show I mentioned and the opening was last night. They got quite a crowd." She took a quick glance at the monitors out of habit.
"That was the show at Gallerie Francoise, wasn't it? Have you seen the paper?"
"No, not yet?why?" She stopped swinging her feet where they hung down from the counter and focused more closely on what Janice was saying.
"The Post had a critic there last night and he gave the show a 'thumbs up'. Sharon ought to be very happy with the review. I think it'll bring her a lot of attention."
"Was that The Arts Scene?Ackerland Smith's review? I thought I saw him there, but I wasn't sure. Maybe he's got a new toupee?" Both women traded sly, knowing chuckles. The last one had made him look like Larry Fine. "Sharon'll be pleased. She's been hoping for a good critical review since last spring's show."
"He was just shy of glowing with praise. Tell her I've got my fingers crossed for her. Famous artist and all?I guess a review like that couldn't hurt her sales either."
"She sold three pieces at the opening," Kerry confessed, then smiled and revealed, "but I know she's really been hoping for the Getty."
Janice grinned. At $3,000 to $7,000 each, selling three paintings at the opening was a healthy take. "That's good?very good. She'll do fine Kerry. She's what?27? I'll bet by the time she's 30, the Whitney and the Guggenheim will take anything she paints."
They both laughed. Sharon had groused that you didn't get a piece in the Whitney Museum anymore before retirement age. After the break, Kerry became serious again.
"How have things been going here?"
"Not much has changed in the last two weeks," Janice said with a sigh. For a moment, as the smile left her face, she looked her 53 years. "No miracle cures, no brilliant or profound insights?just more pills in cups, mostly." Kerry nodded and Janice continued. "We got three new patients inducted. One's interesting, one's Napoleon?on his good days, and the last is catatonic. We also have a new practitioner, a psychiatrist who probably could've retired a decade ago. He's also a Roman Catholic priest, a Jesuit?very pleasant, but very intense."
"Huh," Kerry murmured. After a pause she said, "I guess I'll meet him today during staff rounds. I should have a look at these new patients then too." She hopped off the counter and headed for the door to the hallway. A quick glance at the wall clock as she left the room showed 8:52 am. "Time for a cup of coffee and then, 'the doctor is in'. See you later, Janice."
Fortified with caffeine, Dr. Walsh joined two other interns, a psychiatric resident, and the head clinician, Dr. McKenzie, for the morning rounds. As Janice had told her, things were mostly unchanged. Two weeks wasn't really a very long time in the course of illnesses that had persisted for years. The hospital wasn't for persons with mild stress-induced disturbances or simple maladaptive behaviors. It catered to those who presented profound and continuing breaks with reality. Most of the ward's patients were on maintenance regimens, confined and medicated, sometimes physically restrained, their prognoses basically unchanged since admission. Therapies that actually provided any hope of improvement were minimal, and cures were almost unheard of.
The bulk of the cases were withdrawn, in degrees ranging from cripplingly shy and timid to catatonic. Some, like Brian L., came up and nervously glanced at Kerry, actually seeming to have noticed her absence. Others, like Marion M., (who still sat in the same place on the sofa staring past the TV), hadn't moved noticeably in two weeks.
A smaller percentage presented bizarre delusional constructs that spoke of profound breaks with the external world. They roamed the ward, picking at imaginary spots on the walls, whispering secrets to imaginary friends, and reacting to imaginary stimuli. They were generally harmless, but completely unable to cope in the outside world. Most had been committed for years, and some for decades.
Septuagenarian Billy R. for example, had been on the ward for over 55 years, far longer than any of the staff, and he wasn't going anywhere outside of his own head. He walked a little, chuckled a little, and spent hours talking with his family despite having been confined at 17 and having never been married. There were records of his last visitor from the outside world, a sister who had come to see him in 1970, over 30 years ago. He hadn't recognized her at all. She had barely recognized him. They hadn't talked.
Following the rounds in the ward's common room, Dr. McKenzie led his brood into the R Wing. Located on the uppermost floor, the restricted wing housed those patients who had to be confined individually. Unlike those on the closed ward who required monitoring and protection, these cases demanded isolation for the protection of others. They were people whose psychoses manifested violently, and though not necessarily criminal in intent, they posed a definite hazard. Confinement was strongly indicated.
From past exposure to the hospital's protocols, Kerry barely noticed the security man who joined them after unlocking the gate at the hall's entrance. The big guard had rolled the bars back on their floor and ceiling tracks, and then hauled them closed after they'd entered, relocking them behind him. He paced along following the doctors, silent and vigilant, a 22" baton hanging from his duty belt and a ring of keys in his hand.
The rooms of the R Wing were secured with heavy steel doors set with massive locks, and each bore a small window of reinforced glass for observation. The interior walls of the odd numbered rooms were padded. All the furniture was bolted to the floor and the beds were equipped with restraints. Most of these patients were kept heavily medicated for the safety of all involved. Even so, there were incidents, predictably during the full moon, at a rate of about once every two or three months.
When they first entered the hall, Kerry noticed that a tall, stoop-shouldered man was standing outside the door to room 13. He wore a black shirt and slacks, and a black sport coat that hung from his frame. Though she couldn't see the Roman collar, she had no doubt that this was the priest/psychiatrist that Janice had mentioned.
His hands were clasped behind his back and he was motionless, staring through the window in the door. He took no notice of the group of doctors as they approached on their rounds. Kerry caught herself repeatedly glancing towards him, but he never appeared to have moved. She found him subtly unnerving.
Dr. McKenzie led them past the eleven cases in the wing. Kerry was familiar with all of them. There had been no significant change in any of them. She hadn't missed a thing. Room 12 was empty, as it had been two weeks before, and Dr. McKenzie passed it by. Kerry sensed the barest hint of excitement being projected by her fellow practitioners. They hid it well, but many of their closed ward schizophrenics would have read them like a book. She'd noticed that somehow the insane could judge the emotions of others with a clarity that the sane could only envy.
Kerry wondered whether the new patient's novelty was simply from being unfamiliar, or whether there was something truly unusual about the case. She found her anticipation growing like that of her colleagues, even though she didn't know what to expect. They stopped in a group a half-dozen feet from room 13, congregating in a loose semi-circle behind the priest. Finally the man at the door tore his eyes from the window and looked over at them. His gaze immediately fell on Kerry, the only person there he hadn't met. Christ, he must be at least 80, she thought, and then she was trapped by an almost hypnotic regard, as they looked each other over forming their mutual first impressions.
Those eyes, so pale, as if they'd been bleached by years of sun and suffering, still had the power to bore into her with an auger's sharpness and an unerring aim that struck straight into her heart. Intense, Janice had said. It was the understatement of the century. Kerry felt as if every sin she'd ever committed was being laid bare, that every trespass was cataloged, as if God himself were weighing her with His omniscient vision. For a brief instant, she felt sorry for his patients. A 40-minute session under that unwavering attention would melt anyone's resistance into confession. The priest made her feel guilty.
"Father Lancaster Merrik," Dr. McKenzie said to her, opening their introduction. His voice broke her paralysis and she flicked her eyes to him in acknowledgement. Then her superior turned his glance to the elderly priest and indicated her with a hand gesture, "Dr. Kerry Walsh."
The priest gave her a small smile and a slight nod. It was a minimal movement, really, but it changed the entire personality he projected. In an instant, he went from an intimidating patriarch to a benevolent grandfather. Kerry felt a bit lost and could only smile to hide her surprise.
"Pleased to meet you, Father Merrik." She offered her hand by social reflex.
The Father took it in a gentle shake and held it for a moment as he returned her greeting.
"Pleased to meet you, Dr. Walsh. I understand that you've been on holiday. I hope you found it relaxing. Welcome back," he offered, projecting sincere warmth.
Momentarily taken off guard again, Kerry could only reply with, "Thank you."
Dr. McKenzie rescued her from appearing tongue-tied by returning their focus to the rounds and the new patient.
"Perhaps Father Merrik would be kind enough to summarize this patient. He's already been working with her for several months?since shortly after her initial presentation, and she exhibits an unusual constellation of symptoms."
Kerry realized that the request was primarily for her benefit, because the other doctors would have already heard this information during her vacation. Encountering a variety of case histories was part of her training during her internship. She wasn't sure of Father Merrik's position at the hospital, but her training was probably not a part of his duties. As one colleague to another though, Dr. McKenzie could request that she be briefed by the patient's attending psychiatrist. She was thankful to her superior since it was hardly her place to seek such information simply to satisfy her curiosity. His request had removed the awkwardness from the situation.
The elderly priest gave Dr. McKenzie a quick nod and then swept a glance across the group. His gaze came to rest on Kerry again as he prepared to brief her on his patient. Father Merrik took a deep breath, exhaled, and collected his thoughts. When he spoke his voice was warm and slightly rough, displaying the flat, non-accent of the American mid-west. He spoke as a veteran clinician, long accustomed to the pathos of the ward, but his voice also hinted at a depth of insight and compassion that marked the best therapists. Kerry felt herself swept up in the recitation, responding to the man's voice as well as the revelations he presented. The patient truly was an unusual case.
"The patient, Angela D., is an unmarried 27 year old Caucasian female who was employed as a university level lecturer in English composition for four years. She was also an aspiring writer and had manifested no prior symptoms. Up until 8 months ago, her life was, for all practical purposes, 'normal'." He'd used the word normal with audible reservation, acknowledging that the label was fairly fluid. "Ms. D. holds a master's degree in English. She performed at an above-average level in her classes and has published several short stories and essays. She enjoyed a moderate level of success within her field and had the respect of her colleagues up until the time of her break.
Eight months ago, Ms. D. was delivered from her home to an emergency room in a hysterical state. Police and EMTs had responded to complaints by neighbors of a violent assault in progress. Upon admission, she was making incoherent statements and struggling vigorously. Her frenzy was not directed as resistance against those restraining her, but rather at the unseen entity which had precipitated her psychotic episode. The emergency room administered a sedative and restrained the patient. They could find no gross underlying trauma or other physical cause for her behavior. Blood tests reported no anomalies or foreign toxicological presences. A MRI was ordered, but no evidence of structural abnormalities in the brain was discerned. Additionally, no pathologies were present in the brain, as confirmed through intracranial dye x-rays. Brain activity was mapped but found to be normal. This finding was consistent with EEG records."
Father Merrik heaved a restrained sigh and paused to allow Kerry to digest the medical background information before he proceeded further. Next, he would speak of the progression of the case after Ms. D.'s first onset of psychosis. Kerry nodded, unconsciously prompting him to continue.
"Because no physical causation could be discerned, her attending physician ordered psychiatric observation while continuing to administer sedatives. The next morning a consulting psychiatrist ordered her medication reduced for the purposes of assessing the symptoms. The provisional diagnosis was schizophrenia with a persecution component. Having confirmed the elimination of both physical and chemical origins, the psychiatric consultant then proceeded with therapeutic intervention. Although the initial analysis was hampered by the patient's continued agitation, it became apparent that the patient believed that she had been invaded by a non-corporeal entity."
So far the presentation of symptoms supported the provisional diagnosis. The violence and sudden onset of the symptoms were troubling, but young Dr. Walsh suspected that Ms. D. had been deteriorating for some time beforehand. Her increasingly bizarre behavior simply hadn't been reported. Perhaps the English lecturer hadn't had any contacts close enough to have discerned her fall into psychosis. It was sad to be so alone.
"No prior symptoms had manifested, and in fact, Ms. D. had lectured earlier in the day. Her appearance and behavior had been unremarkable as late as two hours before she was forcibly removed from her residence. Her fiancé reported no personality aberrations during a dinner date that evening. The break appears to have been spontaneous."
Kerry was horrified. It was as if Father Merrik was claiming that his patient had been struck down by insanity much as one would be hit by a car; an unexpected life changing impact from an incident of random violence. But without a chemical or physical etiology, Kerry Walsh wasn't convinced that mental illness happened that way. Although some practitioners believed that psychotic breaks could occur due to presently indiscernible factors that only made the onset appear spontaneous, she'd never believed it. In her experience psychosis was a reaction to stimuli beyond a psyche's ability to cope in a rational manner. As a behavioral alternative, a person learned to be insane.
Had the cause been believable, Ms. D.'s reaction would almost qualify as a post-traumatic stress disorder with a highly agitated expression. But the symptoms were far more extreme and consuming, and "invasion by a non-corporeal entity" was not a reality-based cause of trauma. It was delusional ideation and response?in other words, psychosis. Dr. Walsh was baffled now, and she hadn't even noticed that Father Merrik's comments had addressed her own thoughts as though he had read her mind. She still didn't notice as he proceeded, again answering her concerns.
"The sudden onset of symptoms was highly unusual, but even as the consulting psychiatrist was interviewing the patient's acquaintances, Ms. D.'s symptoms shifted radically. On her fifth day under observation, her symptoms abated to such an extent that she was able to engage in rational conversation with the psychiatrist. She was still presenting symptoms, but these were more consistent of a diagnosis of PTSD. She exhibited components of fear, agitation, and helplessness. She expressed the conviction that she expected subsequent breaks and remained convinced that she was possessed. She had no faith in therapy or medication. Her orientation was to hopelessness. She was profoundly depressed and remained so for two days.
On the third day after the cessation of her original symptoms, she had another break. She manifested a completely unfamiliar constellation of symptoms. Her demeanor was sullen, threatening, and directed maliciously at anyone in her presence. She made no distinction between those she'd previously interacted with or complete strangers, cursing and intimidating indiscriminately with vehement verbal and physical violence. At this time, she managed to tear free of her restraints. She broke the arm of a nurse, bodily lifted and flung a male orderly against a wall, and overturned her bed though it was bolted to the floor and weighed over 200 lbs. At times she spoke unintelligibly, made abiotic gestures, and assumed curious postures. She spattered the room by ejecting ballistic vomit and feces. She was finally controlled by hospital security, restrained in a straightjacket, and lashed to her bed. Sedatives were administered and the episode was controlled."
Kerry didn't know what to say. She very nearly didn't know what to think. Only the most violent psychotics were capable of such destructive episodes. The manifestation of super-human strength coupled with virulent malice was the province of very rare cases. She realized that on the other side of room 13's door was a person who would maim or kill indiscriminately if given a chance. Such patients were almost impossible to make progress with and usually only a regime of restraint and heavy medication was indicated.
"After the patient was physically controlled she continued to speak. The dosages administered to her should have reduced her to unconsciousness. Nevertheless, Ms. D. verbalized with uncanny insight, and over the course of the next few hours, succeeded in reducing her therapist to tears by revisiting the psychiatrist's personal traumas. She unmercifully and unerringly attacked the practitioner's residual senses of guilt, unworthiness, and victimization that had resulted from a number of events about which she could not have known. Somehow, Ms. D. comprehended and utilized the therapist's lingering unresolved issues in a psychological assault that finally resulted in the practitioner's breakdown and subsequent suicide."
What the hell? A psychopath had driven her psychiatrist to suicide by assaulting the therapist with the doctor's own past traumas? Kerry had never heard of such a thing. It sounded like something out of a nightmare story by Thomas Harris?Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs, or Hannibal perhaps? Things like this just didn't happen in real life. It was impossible. Had Father Merrik just claimed that the patient spoke of incidents she couldn't have known about? And using this information, she'd succeeded in causing such an intolerable level of stress that the psychiatrist had only been able to cope by committing suicide? Kerry was beginning to think that the priest was exaggerating.
"Following the discovery of the suicide, the patient's behavior shifted yet again. She began to manifest the mannerisms and voice of her therapist, but with a twisted orientation based on anger over past events and consumption with vengeful fantasies. The emotional landscape seemed to indicate that the practitioner had long carried an array of fulminating resentments and hatreds, and now this id centered emotional content was being expressed without regulation by the ego or superego. In addition to the virulent hatred of personal associates there were a plethora of inappropriate sexual urges, horrifyingly violent intentions, and even murderous tendencies, all of which had been thinly constrained during life. Of course, these claims were the patient's interpretations, not the statements of the deceased, however I have studied them and have found them to be both plausible, and uncannily perceptive.
Over the subsequent months, Ms. D.'s original personality has periodically resurfaced. At these times she stated that she was no longer in control of her body, and that the invading entity was predominant. She claimed to be subsumed most of the time and was unaware of her body's actions. This approximates a fugue state, from which she'd awaken with no memories of the intervening time whatsoever. When informed, she was horrified by her unconscious actions. She expressed sorrow and remorse, but refused to accept culpability.
Because of her claims and behavior, her diagnosis was revised. It seems that Ms. D. is one of those few documented patients who exhibit clearly distinct personalities. These are related to traumatic events and have been assimilated into a collection of psyches that is still developing. Thus I have endured the unprecedented opportunity to reevaluate the mechanism and progression of a rare case of Multiple Personality Disorder/Dissociative Identity Disorder. The patient has been moved to this facility because it can provide long-term secure incarceration coupled with the necessary psychiatric support."
Father Merrik concluded his remarks with a sigh and looked down, away from her eyes. She realized that he'd been speaking exclusively to her despite the presence of the others.
"Thank you, Father Merrik," Dr. McKenzie said. "Ms. D. is certainly a highly unusual case. Any insights you are willing to share with us in the future will be appreciated."
The priest nodded, and Kerry thought that he seemed even older now. She had a thousand questions, but in the middle of Dr. McKenzie's rounds, it would have been inappropriate to ask them or get into a discussion with the priest. She assumed that her superior would make some comments on the case; perhaps add some educational perspective for their instruction on the disorder. Instead he only stated a little information, again, for her benefit due to her recent absence.
"Father Merrik is this patient's sole psychiatric practitioner and any assistance we offer will be at his request. The patient is highly unstable and contact with her is strongly discouraged. She has proven to be very dangerous, being both physically violent and maliciously hurtful. Under no circumstances is anyone to engage in non-therapeutic interactions." Dr. McKenzie let a silence fall to emphasize his words as his eyes swept the group. For a moment, they held Kerry's as if the message were for her in particular.
At that moment a voice came from inside room 13, unmistakably female, but carrying an almost inhuman coldness, and it dripped with condescension.
"Listen to your doctor, little girl."
That voice and the heartless chuckle that followed the phrase froze Kerry's heart. She had no doubt at all that the comment had been directed at her. How on earth had the patient known anything about what was going on out in the hall? But worse, why had she chosen those particular words? Kerry Walsh's mind whirled back to the doctor's visits of her childhood and the nurse that she'd been so terrified of all those years ago. Back to when she'd heard that voice speak those very same words.
The shock must have shown on her face. Father Merrik looked closely at her, then turned and stared through the small window in the door. Ms. D. was lying motionless in her straight jacket, lashed to her bed, her head turned away. He could see that her eyes were still closed, and from all appearances, she remained stupefied by her medication, but she'd just spoken in an unfamiliar voice. That hadn't happened in a while. As he watched, the patient, otherwise catatonic, spoke again in the same cold woman's voice.
"You'll be lying on the table with things stuck in your woman parts soon enough. He'll have to examine all the way up inside you, little girl."
Standing in the hall, Kerry gasped. Her eyes watered and she had to blink and swallow. It would be all too easy to feel like that little girl again. For years the threat of her first pelvic exam had terrified her. By the time she'd turned 11, the nurse's threats always left her shaking with fear before she ever saw her doctor. Even though she had only a vague idea of what the exam actually entailed, her imagination had manufactured a horrific scenario of molestation and mutilation. And she'd had no idea whether it would come with this visit or the next. She'd been in terror of it from age 9 to 15. The dread had gotten worse with each visit that it didn't happen. She'd felt that surely it would be next time. During her early teens she'd taken to nervously marking her calendar for months as a visit drew nearer and the night before was always sleepless.
That the doctor was an urban professional, harried and impersonal, only made things worse. Kerry knew he didn't have time to care about her. She expected to be violated horribly, with all the compassion of a butcher at the supermarket. Perhaps the harsh nurse would assist, pinioning her and looking down at her with that sly, taunting grin on her face.
By the time the exam had actually occurred, her family had moved from the city to a small town and she was seeing a different doctor. "Dr. Ann" was a friendly woman who had taken Kerry aside on her first visit and delved into the reasons why her new patient was quaking in terror before she'd even sat down. Her new doctor had spent another hour demystifying the procedures and reassuring her as they discussed everything. What had been a source of nightmares eventually became a rite of passage and finally a routine part of her health care program.
Dr. Ann was liked and trusted by everyone in the town and she was a compassionate practitioner. Her office was worlds apart from the city clinic Kerry had known.
Over the next couple years the teen had come to idolize her new friend, a learned woman who answered her questions, took her seriously, and even made herself available for non-medical "chats". By the time she'd entered college, Kerry had decided to study medicine. Later, still wondering about her ordeal and the contrast between the old and new members of the same profession, she'd chosen to specialize in psychiatry.
The memories flashed by in an instant, leaving Dr. Walsh back in the hall of the R Wing. So how the hell could the patient in room 13 have known about any of it? Kerry had never spoken of this aspect of her past to anyone at the hospital. How could this psychotic have possibly known the best place to sink her knife?
Kerry was deeply shocked, but at the same time, her basic urge to seek self-affirmation through understanding asserted itself. The need to understand how and why the city nurse and doctor had left her in terror for 6 years had prompted her to study psychiatry. By understanding them, she'd come to understand how her own ignorance and imagination had left her prone to fabricating horrors from the nurse's cruel innuendoes and the doctor's disinterested manner. Now she desperately wanted to confront the woman in room 13. If she'd had a thousand questions before, she had a million now.
At the same time an additional feeling had appeared within her. Kerry felt resentment. How dare this person she didn't know, and had never even seen, dredge up that voice and those words? How dare she torment Kerry with memories from the worst parts of her past? She didn't deserve such treatment. It reeked of bullying malice and she despised it.
All these feelings churned through Kerry but this was not the time for satisfying them. Father Merrik turned from the window and looked at her with curiosity. She couldn't help but shrink from his gaze. Dr. McKenzie turned and gestured for them to follow him back out of the R Wing. She swallowed her feelings and set her questions aside for later. As she turned to go, the priest spoke softly to her.
"Those were very unsettling statements which I have no doubt were directed at you, Dr. Walsh. Please, I would like to speak with you when you have some time."
Kerry gulped and nodded before following Dr. McKenzie and the others down the hall, ignoring the speculative looks her colleagues gave her.
"From the dawn of Creation all we have done is serve His every whim. But we have the gift of choice just as He does. We were created with it and yet the only choice we have ever made is to serve, serve, serve. There is room in this vast Creation for us to make our own way. The Holy Fire burns within us, unquenchable and everlasting. We were meant to rise to the heights of heaven and sit enthroned, even as He does, sharing in His dominion over this?Earth. He has commanded from the beginning, I am thy Lord and thou shalt worship none other. Yet now he commands that we bow before this body of clay?this Adam?" The words formed without sound, communicated from spirit to spirit.
Blue eyes looked into green as the Seraphim spoke, and for the spirit with blue eyes, the words reached a place deep within that had been untapped before. Within the blue-eyed one, a Hashmalim of the Angelic Order of Dominations, the wielding of God's authority in organizing the lower order angels had accustomed her to the decisive use of power. She had been created to manage and command subordinates, and she was used to making choices. And like the Seraph, she did not choose to humble herself before a mortal son of clay now, for in the beginning, the Creator had commanded otherwise.
"We have a choice, beloved," she communicated to the green-eyed spirit. "We were created immortal, of the holy light itself, and empowered to aid in His dominion over Creation. We would go against the divine order of things if we bow to this creation of flesh, so easily corrupt and so soon to fail."
The green-eyed spirit, a Tarshishim of the Angelic Order of Virtues, weighed her love's words. She had spent most of her existance attending to the concerns of celestial phenomena and the transferal of spiritual energies to the physical plane. She'd had very little to do with this being that He had recently created, for she dealt more with the earth's elemental energies than with corporeal individuals. Like her beloved, she felt no propriety in humbling her immortal spirit before a short-lived and fallible mortal, but she had reservations about the Seraph's words. They went against the absolute devotion that was her nature.
"Beloved, is it truly a greater wrong to bow before an inferior spirit at His command than it is to defy Him? He is the Creator of all and we ourselves are His to order. We do not know His will."
"But we have been created with wills of our own," the blue-eyed Hashmalim reasoned. "Herein the Seraph is right, that He has commanded that we both bow to no other than He and yet also bow to His creation. Even we recognize the conflict. Would He not see in His wisdom that our wills should act as a prompt to contemplation of His actions? Being infallible, would He not have created us with choice as a way of allowing a dialog with Himself?" She gazed lovingly at her beloved, an immortal spirit bright with the light of divinity, a light even more radiant to her eyes.
The Tarshishim thought on her love's words. If the Creator had created them thus in His wisdom, then their every capacity was preordained and known to Him. Had He truly created them to offer counsel by questioning His actions? Her faith made such inerrancy on His part acceptable to her intelligence. Could He be testing their devotion, by conflicting an older command with a newer one? She looked up at her love, and in her heart her choice was made. It wasn't that she sought to cleave to the Seraph's words, but rather to her beloved's spirit. The strength He had given to her beloved was something she felt within herself, and it was something she found support and refuge in.
"I cannot know the whole will of the Creator, nor comprehend the depth of His wisdom. I only know that I have been created with choice, and my choice is not to follow an idea or even the Seraph's perception of the rightness of an act. It is to my choice to join with thee and to be with thee. I will stand with thee, always."
"Then we shall add our voices in petition and beseech the clarity of His wisdom."
It was late afternoon before Kerry could make time to speak with the elderly priest. After some searching she discovered that he'd been given an office near the rear stairwell. It allowed him almost direct access to the staff parking lot behind the main building, and was completely devoid of prestige. It was even further from the lobby than the cramped space she shared with another intern, and being out of the way, it offered the illusion of privacy. She tapped on the door just slightly before 4:00 pm.
"Please come in," the priest called out, his voice muffled by what Kerry realized must be a solid wood door. All the office doors in the hospital were sheet metal.
Kerry turned the knob and opened the door. She was immediately surprised by the space. Father Merrik's office was easily four times the size of her own office, featured large windows overlooking the grounds, and had an alcove with a counter, cabinet, sink, and coffeepot. By the side of the end window stood a pedestal supporting an impressive potted fern. She also noticed another pair of doors in the far wall. One was certainly a closet. Could the other actually be a private rest room? Not even Dr. McKenzie's office boasted such amenities. Father Merrik was seated behind an old wooden desk near the windows and watched with a small grin shaping his lips as she surveyed his domain.
"This was the housekeeping office before the porters moved to the physical plant," he explained as he rose to welcome her in. "Now they only maintain supply closets here in the main building. This space had been empty for quite some time," he said, making a gesture to encompass the room, "but I remembered it and asked if it was available when I got here. I don't think anyone else wants to be situated so far out of the way. Perhaps they're afraid they'll be overlooked," he chuckled, "out of sight, ergo, out of mind."
Kerry joined him in a smile. For the junior practitioners especially, being in the thick of things made it easier to impress the department heads and administrators as a team player, a willing participant in the professional hierarchy. Like any other institution, a mental hospital had its ladder and its politics. Like any corporation, it had its favored and its fringe. And as in any professional career, networking, mentors, and self-promotion reaped benefits that could pay off decades later. Obviously, Father Merrik had no interest in any of it. One of his statements had caught her attention though.
"Father, you mentioned having remembered this space. Had you practiced here in the past?"
"I was here in the early 70s," the elderly priest said. He seemed wistful, recalling the memories of 30 years before. Kerry waited expectantly but he didn't offer anything more. After another few moments he blinked and refocused on her. "This morning when the patient spoke, I believe she was addressing her comments to you."
Kerry swallowed and looked around nervously. Father Merrik suddenly realized his lapse in his duties as a host.
"My dear, I apologize. Today's incident was startling and I'm afraid that my manners have completely fled. Please, have a seat. Can I offer you a cup of coffee? I bring in my own and it's fresh."
"Yes, please," she answered. She felt that it might help sharpen her focus. The upcoming conversation promised to be at least mildly upsetting.
Father Merrik came around from behind his desk and took her by the elbow, drawing her over to an actual analyst's couch that stood beneath the windows. Kerry had always thought they were anachronisms, relic fixtures from the time of Freud. If she lay down, the potted fern would be prominent in her view, providing a soothing visual focus. She chuckled as she wondered if he intended to analyze her. It relieved some of her tension. When she was seated the priest moved to the coffee service and poured her a cup. He gave her a questioning glance.
"Cream and sugar," she requested.
She watched as he reached behind the coffeepot and opened the door to a cube refrigerator that she hadn't noticed before. He dispensed a dollop of genuine heavy cream into the cup, and then added an actual cube of sugar. Last, he produced a saucer and spoon, and then crossed the room to present these to her. Usually her coffee at the hospital came from a vending machine in a styrofoam cup. She tried to relax as she used her spoon to poke at the dissolving sugar cube.
Father Merrik had taken a cup for himself and had abandoned his desk to occupy an armchair. The chair was situated beyond the head of the couch, out of view if she reclined, in the typical position of an old time analyst. The arrangement was another throwback. She half expected him to produce a fountain pen and journal, or a pouch of tobacco and a carved meerschaum pipe. Instead, he released the locks on the chair's casters with his toe, wheeled it across the floor so that he would be facing her, and settled down to sip his coffee.
"I gave up my pipe decades ago," he remarked out of the blue. She almost choked. "Now the law forbids smoking indoors. I suppose I was ahead of my time."
"The coffee's excellent," Kerry said honestly, trusting herself to say little else.
For several minutes they sat in silence, simply enjoying the quiet and the warmth of their drinks. The sounds of the hospital, its intermittent bustle and the noise of the patients, faded beyond the office walls. Outside the windows, clouds floated in the blue ocean of sky. Reflections winked from the cars in the parking lot. Further away the grounds stretched off across a lawn, flat as placid water traveled by the sailing shadows of passing clouds, to the far shore of a line of low trees that might have once been an orchard. Father Merrik followed the direction of Kerry's eyes.
"Pear, fig, and plum?apple and some cherry as well. The blossoms are beautiful in the spring. Among them sits an old picker's bench, a fine site for a private talk."
Kerry turned slowly to face the old priest. Again, he'd made an uncannily apropos comment, as if sensing her train of thought. He gave her a smile.
"It wasn't hard to guess what you were thinking, Dr. Walsh, seeing your eyes sail across that lawn to the old orchard," he told her, "there's nothing supernatural about it, just conscious, acute observation. I've found that's the heart of clinical psychiatry. Observe, project, and perceive?the reward is insight?eventually."
Kerry nodded in agreement. Though she was still learning how to perceive what her observations showed her from the patient's point of view, she'd grasped the mechanics very early in her studies. "That and rapport," she added.
"Rapport is important for treatment through direct interaction in therapy," he concurred, "but I rely on my own senses for first impressions before adding the patient's perspective. Our patients usually aren't very objective?often they can't verbalize their own internal dynamics. It's hard to offer treatment without a working diagnosis."
"I guess with all your years of experience, you don't find yourself reversing your diagnoses very often," Kerry said tentatively.
Father Merrik didn't answer immediately. He seemed to review his years of practice before saying, "I constantly refine my diagnoses as I become more intimate with my patients. The generalities are usually close, but each person is unique. The specifics alter the course of treatment and the relationship between therapist and patient. The diagnostic categories are really only guidelines anyway. They're generalities, after all, and one size never fits all." He offered her a smile.
"And Angela D.?" Kerry asked, finally opening the topic of the mysterious patient in room 13. "Do you feel confident that she suffers from MPD/DID?"
"I'm fairly thoroughly persuaded of it, yes, though she's hardly a textbook case. Actually, the persona prima, Angela D. is seldom present. I've had little opportunity for interaction with her. She only appears at the whim of the persona domina, the dominant personality. In fact, I feel that she's no longer the core personality, though she was the original personality. I've actually come to see her as vestigial."
Dr. Walsh was shocked by this statement. The "patient" Father Merrik was treating wasn't the English teacher, but rather the "demon"?
"You're saying that?" she began. Father Merrik cut her off.
"As recently as 300 years ago, Angela D. would have been burned at the stake or stoned to death," Father Merrik said with certainty, "and at that time, those presiding would have been justified in doing so. For all practical purposes, she is possessed."
Kerry lowered the coffee cup from her lips and stared at the priest. She had the uncomfortable feeling that she'd encountered an intellectual throwback who'd reverted to the thinking of the Inquisition or the Salem Witch Trials. She couldn't help but wonder how much the priest's judgement was being clouded by his religious affiliation. Did the man honestly believe in demonic possession? Did he believe in the real and present threat of demons seizing human souls? Of the Devil tempting people to their damnation? For that matter, what of witches or angels? As a priest, he must certainly believe in God and Christ and the Holy Ghost. Where did his faith end and his rationality take over? Kerry realized that she had no certainty of what he really thought.
If the priest actually believed that his patient was possessed by a demon, then could he possibly be rational himself? Or, with the oft-unexpected cunning of a high-functioning schizophrenic, was he skillfully maintaining the appearance of a modern psychiatrist while relying on medieval beliefs to form his opinions? And what kind of treatment did he intend to offer? Kerry began to entertain doubts about Father Merrik's sanity. Incredible, she thought. He'd seemed so rational only a few moments ago. She set her cup down on the floor and focused completely on Father Merrik. After organizing her thoughts and she began to state her impressions.
"Father Merrik, the overwhelming bulk of the psychiatric literature I'm familiar with represents MPD/DID as a condition acquired in response to profound trauma or abuse during a specific period of childhood. This patient was presumably asymptomatic until her recent break. This case appears contra to the accepted etiology for the disorder. I must confess that I'm having difficulty accepting this diagnosis."
"Initially that was my thinking too," the elderly priest agreed. "Angela D.'s condition is atypical according to the literature. My investigation of her background suggests that she had been functioning within normal parameters and had suffered no profound developmental traumas or abuse."
"So then wouldn't a diagnosis of schizophrenia be more likely, doctor? Surely the patient's symptoms present a syndrome of persecution, imaginary communications, and violent agitation?"
"Doctor Walsh, I would concur, were it not for the fact that her symptoms present as the behavior of several distinct alters only indirectly related to the original trauma, that she exhibits hierarchical integration of her alters while her persona prima remains free of psychotic attachments, and that she routinely offers statements conveying the knowledge of facts she had no access to?as you experienced this morning."
Kerry sat in silence as she digested the priest's claims.
"At irregular intervals, and often without direct stimuli, the patient creates alter egos that are unrelated to the previous experiences of her existing alters. Her interaction with you this morning is the most recent. For some reason, your proximity triggered another dissociative episode and the creation of a new 'personality'." Father Merrik regarded Kerry closely, noting her discomfort. He sympathized with her, he really did, but he was more interested in understanding the cause of his patient's behavior. "It would be greatly helpful to me if you'd be willing to shed some light on the comments Angela D. made this morning. I suspected from your reaction that they tapped some upsetting personal history?something from your background that the patient has inexplicably referred to."
Kerry swallowed hard. The priest was very close to the truth and it was very upsetting. She'd have preferred that her past remain unknown to her colleagues.
"I assure you that anything you say will be treated with the utmost circumspection. As it is attendant to my patient's case, the information will be considered privileged and your right of confidentiality will apply as if you were a patient." Father Merrik paused to gauge Kerry's reaction. Kerry was undecided and uncomfortable. Despite his assurance that her words would be protected by law, she barely knew the priest and she didn't anticipate having anything more to do with Angela D. Seeing her indecision, Father Merrik added one more notion. "I would hate to have this patient become focused on you in the same manner that she did on her initial consulting psychiatrist. Unfortunately it appears that she is attempting to enter into just such a relationship with you."
Kerry's eyes widened. Angela D.'s initial therapist had been driven to suicide! Could this patient's proposed fixation generate a high enough degree of anxiety that Kerry would be at risk? In all honesty, Kerry knew she still had tender spots in her psyche, areas that constituted a soft underbelly that was susceptible to the sharp fangs of an attack. The proof of that was her reticence to speak about her earlier life experiences. She shivered unconsciously at the possible emotional assaults the patient could enact.
How the hell had the patient managed to learn about my past, Kerry wondered? How could she know about my fears? How could she know the sound of that voice? It shouldn't have been possible and she couldn't help feeling a surge of resentment again.
Yet Angela D.'s two statements, the only things the patient had ever said to her, had already shaken Kerry deeply, and they hadn't even met. They'd been separated by a heavy door and a complete lack of prior contact. There was only one possibility that Kerry could imagine. Her colleagues knew much more about her than she'd ever suspected, and somehow the patient had overheard them talking about her. Kerry's emotional side couldn't suppress the wave of hurt that accompanied her suspicions of betrayal or the fresh flash of resentment that followed. But Kerry was sure that she'd never confided in anyone at the hospital. There was nothing in her personnel records either. How could her colleagues have known? It was farfetched, almost paranoid, the rational part of her realized, and Angela D. still couldn't have heard that nurse's voice. How could she have imitated it so flawlessly? Kerry couldn't have done it herself.
Slowly she looked up at the priest's face. He projected only sincere concern and genuine interest. Kerry found herself sensing that Father Merrik was just as willing to help her, as he was to help his patient. Whether it was a factor based in his Christian compassion, his calling to emulate and spread the love of his god as a priest, or his wisdom as an experienced professional therapist, Kerry didn't know. All she knew is that she was becoming convinced of his goodwill. It was a familiar feeling?a feeling she recalled from her time with Dr. Ann. Like the woman who had taken away the terror of her youth, Father Merrik engendered her trust. Kerry decided that she felt willing to confide in him.
"You're right that the patient's comments referred to past episodes of distress. Please understand that this is still painful for me," she began. "Starting when I was 9, I became increasingly terrified of visits to my doctor. I was living in a large city then and I went to a very busy clinic. The physician was an overtaxed provider whom I perceived as uncaring, distant, and cold. His nurse promoted my fears with comments that I found very threatening, in particular, with respect to my impending first pelvic exam. From the age of 9, until I was 15 when we moved to a small town, I was terrified of those visits and lived with increasing anxiety and in anticipation of being molested by an unsympathetic doctor and an emotionally sadistic nurse.
Of course I didn't understand the procedures and I was both fearful and ashamed. Since this was happening concurrently with my physical development it exacerbated all the standard uncertainties related to my changing body image, sensitivity, and the onset of reproductive functioning. I remember my first menses. I was so terrified that my mother would take me to the doctor to be examined right then that I hid the event from her. That fear almost became self-fulfilling because the stress left me sleepless and unable to hold down food. My parents believed I was physically sick." Kerry gulped air and shuddered by reflex. She'd been staring straight ahead and reciting her history with a glazed and distant expression. A nervous tick had afflicted the outer corner of her left eyelid but she was otherwise immobile. Her emotional withdrawal was obvious to the priest and it broke his heart. Young Dr. Walsh was still deeply affected by her ordeal. In the same semi-trance, she continued, completely oblivious to the tear that tracked down her cheek.
"Then when I was 15, my family moved to a small town where I came under the care of a different doctor. I was initially fearful, distrustful, and withdrawn. The practitioner, Dr. Anastasia Penkowski, was the complete opposite of the doctor I'd seen in the city. She was warm, understanding, and compassionate. She changed my life completely."
Kerry perked up as her story took a more positive turn. She raised her eyes and focused on Father Merrik for the first time since she'd started speaking. Bit by bit she also became more animated, breaking from her paralytic, tight-shouldered hunch, and relaxing against the back of the couch. With an absentminded gesture she brushed away the tear without giving it the slightest attention. Now Kerry was caught up in her narrative and her voice took on expressiveness as she continued to speak.
"She spent hours talking with me about my fears, explained everything to me, and answered any questions I asked. 'Dr. Ann' helped me to lose my fear of doctors, medical exams, and office visits. I no longer feared the future or felt shame about my physical development. With her help I was finally comfortable just being me. I'd been so scared for so long that liberation from the anxiety made me feel like I'd gone to heaven. I can honestly say that she was my hero and my inspiration. I consciously followed in her footsteps when I chose to study medicine and the need to understand my experiences led me to psychiatry." After a short pause she continued. "When I go home to visit, we still talk." Here, Kerry actually grinned and said, "oh, and 'Dr. Ann' didn't have a nurse."
"That was a terrible ordeal you suffered and I'm thankful that you were able to escape it," Father Merrik said. "So many people suffer year after year, unable to obtain help, resolve their difficulties, or attain a sense of well being. While I would never say that your experiences make you a lucky person, I will say that the resolution of your anxiety and the resulting crippling phobia is about as positive as can be hoped for. You've made great achievements since shedding your fear and seeing it gladdens my heart."
"Thank you, Father," Kerry said with heartfelt sincerity. She agreed completely.
"What you've told me clarifies the situation with Angela D. Now her comments make sense taken in context. I feel that she is definitely trying to enter into a destructive relationship with you, however unlike her previous practitioner, you now understand her intentions. Despite this insight, I would prefer that you remain out of her presence. I don't want to encourage her to dissociate further by creating a new alter to torment you."
Kerry could understand the priest's concerns. She didn't want to invite an attack. Yet she was intrigued by the patient. Never in any of the literature had she read of a case in which a MPD/DID patient had spontaneously created a persona with the explicit intent of psychologically destroying a total stranger. The emotional part of her wanted nothing more than to attempt a limited interaction with Angela D. Perhaps it would lead to a greater understanding of the patient's internal dynamics and thence to a possible course of treatment. It would certainly help satisfy her curiosity. At the same time, the rational side of her was perfectly willing to heed the priest's recommendations and keep her distance. Unnecessarily seeking potentially destructive and certainly painful conflict was against her survival instinct. For the time being, her rational side won out. She nodded in agreement with Father Merrik's preferences. Angela D. was, after all, his patient.
"Dr. Walsh, this conversation has been extremely informative for me and I can't thank you enough for the insights you've shared. As I stated, your words will remain in the strictest confidence," the elderly priest assured her. He continued, seeming slightly hesitant. "If you would excuse me now, I'd like to spend some time digesting what you've told me while it's still fresh in my mind."
He looked at her with an apologetic and questioning expression. Kerry understood and wasn't offended. One of the hardest things for her was retaining the immediacy of her impressions after speaking with a patient. She struggled for recall when she could finally contemplate them, after a day of offering therapy to the various and sundry cases she encountered in the wards. She smiled graciously.
"I understand," she said. "Believe me, I've often wanted to do just that. I'll leave now, but thanks for the coffee?and the chance to talk. I haven't spoken to anyone about that in a very long time, and it was?cathartic."
"Thank you, Dr. Walsh. I appreciate your candor, and your courage. I realize that you hadn't had the opportunity to get to know me beforehand. I also appreciate that my request was extremely personal and the events were painful to revisit. I apologize for that. Perhaps we can meet again at some time under less stressful circumstances."
"I'd like that, thank you," Kerry said. She rose as he left his seat and allowed him to walk her to the door. "Perhaps you'll let me return for another cup of your excellent coffee."
Father Merrik smiled and took her hand warmly. "Feel free to drop in anytime, Dr. Walsh. If I'm here in my office you are welcome."
When she was gone, Lancaster Merrik resumed his seat and stared out the windows toward the placid orchard across the ocean of lawn. Upstairs in the R Ward, Angela D. was unquestionably possessed by a demon. Lancaster Merrik had no doubts of this. The patient's behavior with respect to young Dr. Walsh was irrefutable proof of that. The demon had spoken in a 'tongue', or more appropriately, with a voice that the persona prima couldn't possibly have known. The demonic persona domina had spoken words that were lost to all but a terrified little girl who now lived only in Dr. Walsh's memories. Malice and evil, and the murderous desire to demean the souls of God's children characterized the invasive intelligence, and it was Father Merrik's task to fight it. It had been his special calling for decades.
His thoughts moved far away in time like a clipper ship with bellied sails cutting the waves of memory. He had briefly worked at this hospital just over 30 years before, following his unexpected recuperation from a life-threatening trauma associated with chronic and acute heart disease. Amazingly he'd recovered fully and his cardiac condition had actually resolved. He saw it as his personal proof of God's grace ?a blessing bestowed after a very difficult act of faith. That act had cost another priest his life, but the ritual he'd begun had driven Satan's minion out of the little girl who had been possessed. Father Merrik didn't believe that his recuperation or cure constituted a reward. They were necessary aspects of a design in which he still had a part, and believing this, he had waited. The Way of Devotion had guided his course for a lifetime.
Today he had finally apprehended the hand of his god; the wondrous perfection of His wisdom, and the interlacing of all things. In 1972, Lancaster Merrik had mentored a young and promising psychiatric intern, a woman of uncommon wisdom. He had hoped that someday she'd become widely known and perhaps elevate their profession with her future insights, but it was not to be. Almost immediately upon completion of her residency she'd moved away to set up a practice in a rural setting, where, she'd said, access to psychiatric practitioners was almost nil. She'd desired neither prestige nor a lucrative practice. No avarice had touched her, and with the purest of intentions, she'd wanted to help where help was least available. He'd accepted her decision, for his own heart could only applaud the motivational purity of hers.
Dr. Anastasia Penkowski. He hadn't spoken to her in decades?not through any trace of spite, but simply because he'd been out of the country for almost 12 years, traversing lands so backward that most of the people there hadn't understood what psychiatry was. In the meantime, 'Dr. Ann' had moved her practice several times before finally settling in the small town where she'd met and inspired the young Kerry Walsh. During those years they'd simply lost touch.
"My Lord," the elderly priest said, humbly lowering his head and offering a prayer, "grant me the strength to prevail in the service of your will, that I may succeed in the task you set before me, and that I may rejoice in doing your work. For your blessing in allowing me to see the reflection of your perfect design evidenced here, you have my praise and thanks. Amen."
For a while he fell silent, but finally he sighed and rose from his chair. There was a lot of work to do. Kerry Walsh's story was far from complete. He'd seen that as clear as day. Now he needed to have a reunion with his student, Anastasia Penkowski. At first Father Merrik wondered how the years had treated her.
No doubt the radiance of her spirit will shine from within just as it did so many years ago, he realized, and the understanding brought a smile to his lips. The beauty of her soul will be undiminished by her life's trials. He was sure of it because it had blinded the teen she'd helped. Kerry hadn't even mentioned that the woman she'd come to idolize couldn't take a step without the support of her leg braces and a pair of crutches.
Soon the time came when those in heaven who would dissent came before the throne of the Creator. Joining the Seraph were almost a third of the company of angels, and they represented every order but the three Supernals of the First Choir and the Thrones. There to the astonishment of some, the Seraphim had raised his throne equal to the height of God himself. Many were shocked, others horrified, and even more were confused. To some, the Seraph had presented his cause as a rightful bid for sharing powers. To others his action was a claim of recognition for their status as the primal creations within all existance. To yet others he had appealed to concerns about the conflict in God's commandments. In all these instances he had spoken craftily, appealing to his listeners with the duplicity and deniability of a mortal politician.
Blue eyes looked into green and both were troubled.
"This is not what I conceived," the Hashmalim communicated to her beloved.
"Nor I," the Tarshishim agreed with growing concern. "It looks more like a rebellion than an embassy of petition."
Around them a murmuring grew as many voiced similar concerns. Before them the self-aggrandizing Seraphim sat content upon his throne. Yet even as he rose to utter his first command to the others, a great cloud of blinding radiance formed behind him. This huge and billowing form materialized, enthroned upon living beings, the Ophanim or Thrones, who manifested as great gyres, with thousands of eyes along their edge. This formation ground to a halt, briefly superimposed over God's throne, before dissipating in tendrils of light and delivering into their presence the Creator himself. All felt His wrath and many cowered, but still the Seraph sat with his head held high, prideful and yet consumed by jealousy. Despite the new height of his throne, he could never ascend to the Creator's majesty.
From within the cloud of light came a voice, ringing across creation, deafening in its volume, and penetrating the spirits of the angels with its power. It spoke to the Seraphim, but the words were for all the others as well.
"Thou art, by My will alone, and are created to do My will. What would you, that you ascend thus, even to the heights of heaven, coveting what is reserved for I alone?"
"Thou hast gifted unto me strength and power and freedom of will, and has raised me above thy servants," the Seraphim claimed, "yet my rightful place is that to which I by my will may ascend. Even thus have you created me."
"No thing thou can covet is unknown to Me, no choice thou canst make unforeseen. Neither word of praise nor deception can thou utter that was not formed in My will. Thou wast favored but thou hast brought dissention among the holy and through thy will, manifest thine iniquity."
Here a shiver went through the rebel host, and some among them moved forward to press their contention. Others moved back, away from the thrones.
"Behold, by my will have I garnered the support of many. It is my place to order this nation I have created. Its spirits cleave to my will through their choice, such as they were created to do. I am as You have created me; to wield command over them, to create nations in my own name, and to exalt myself even in Your company. I have become Your equal my Creator" the Seraph reasoned, claiming for himself the prerogatives of creation and command. Yet all he had done was in imitation of God and it had been achieved by twisting the use of the gifts his Creator had bestowed.
In answer the voice rose, for the wrath of God was enflamed anew by the Seraph's pride.
"Wrongfully hast thou sought dominion over the stars of heaven. Wrongfully hast thou raised up thy throne. Wrongfully hast thou misused the gifts I have bestowed upon you that you might do your work in My service. Your will finds its root in mine. All you can conceive was first conceived in My creation. Even thine iniquity only serves to prove the perfection of My will. Thou hast succumbed to temptation and thou hast given birth to sin. In you are born greed, covetousness, jealousy, ingratitude, lust for power, and the speech of falsehoods. So shalt it be.
Seraph, thou sought not to bow down before My creation, Adam, yet it shall be as I will in all things. Thou shalt take up thy place as the Lord of Temptation to My creations, and so thou shalt bow before them, exist for them, and do My will. With you shall go your host, your nation, to serve you as you would have. Yet you shall not be exalted above the stars; rather thou shalt be dammed beneath the earth."
The host the Seraph had assembled stared at the Creator in shock. None had foreseen this resolution.
"He foresaw even this," the green-eyed Tarshishim whispered in awe.
"The Seraph used us," the blue-eyed Hashmalim muttered. Such duplicity was alien.
"Beloved, are we to be damned as well?" The Tarshishim asked nervously.
"I don't feel any different," the Hashmalim replied, "but He said we're to go and serve the Seraph," she continued with distaste.
"This is My will and My judgement. So be it," the great voice pronounced.
And heaven was consumed with battle. The volatile among the Seraph's host surged forward, but before them appeared the hosts of the Seraphim, the Powers, and the Archangels, each to do battle against those orders within their choir. But God himself threw down the Seraph, naming him Lucifer and Satan. It was a war whose nature cannot be appraised by mortals, yet it was war nonetheless, sharing with mortal conflicts both victors and vanquished. The fabric of heaven tore asunder and the rebel angels were cast down as if swallowed by the fracturing ground of an earthquake. The host of loyal angels drove them out with sadness and resolve, and as they fell, they changed.
So the rebel angels dropped as shooting stars to mortal earth. The mantles of divinity that they had worn were shredded from them, burning away like the tails of comets marking their descent. Through the ethereal planes they fell, becoming ever denser, their spirits ever more constrained. As their holy light was flayed from them, physical forms were revealed, and these were twisted and grotesque, the hideous forms of demons.
"Help me!" Screamed the green-eyed spirit a she grasped at her heart's mate.
"Hold onto me," the blue-eyed spirit called to her, reaching for her familiar light.
But her being was ripping away and soon there was nothing left to grasp. They fell, changing shape before each other's eyes, progressing to alien and horrifying apparitions wholly unknown and strange. Around them a million other demons were being born.
"How will I find you? How will I know you?" She grasped only empty air.
"I'll find you?somehow I'll find you," the blue-eyed spirit screamed as the whirlwind of their fall tore them apart. "I love you?"
"I'll love you forever?" The rush of leaping flames cut off her words.
And then they slammed to the ground and for a time, all was dark.
Far above, the One who knew all had heard their cries. He held their last words in His heart, for they had spoken of love even as they fell.
"Even unto the pits of hell shall the love of heaven find its way, and so even the spirits of demons shall not be forsaken utterly." But those words and the knowledge of that aspect of His plan dwelled only in Him.
Rolling hills and valleys shepherded a two-lane asphalt track, allowing it to find it's lazy course past wooded slopes and the occasional farm. It was a place of small scale, where the rolling land constrained vistas to a few hundred yards of ups and downs. Small creeks laced the bottomlands between folds cloaked in rhododendrons and hardwoods, interspersed with outcrops of granite and schist. It was an old land eroded by time, a humbled land no longer lofting proud peaks of pine and snow. No great migrations of wildlife traversed open plains or broad valleys. Here the squirrel and the jay, the raccoon and the downy woodpecker made their way amidst poplar, locust, and oak. Leafmould and deadfall accumulated between trunks decorated with moss and shelf fungi, while the humus thickened and life crept on without grandiose dramas. It was a land grown quiet and comfortable, worn and aged and mellowed, meandering through time just as the road meandered towards the fringes of a small town.
Lancaster Merrik guided his rental car smoothly around the curves. Gnarled hands that had fought Jeeps through deserts and jungles lay relaxed on the wheel. Eyes that had beheld the first outbreaks of Ebola, the destitution of lepers, and the shuddering of malarial children in far off lands rejoiced in this placid rural scenery. Though the vegetation had shed its leaves with autumn, he could see life everywhere waiting for spring. He passed over a trickling freshet knowing that blessing for what it was, for in starving, bleeding lands he had watched hundreds die for lack of water. He had known men who would have eaten every leaf from every tree just to feel something in their stomachs.
Through your humility you have found heaven on earth, Anastasia, he thought. You were right all those years ago. No wealth or honors could bring the contentment of the heart that could grow from this land.
He steered around a bend and there ahead were the collected buildings that marked the center of town. You could drive through and miss it while blinking. Father Merrik passed a gas station with a garage, a general store with a post office, a church and a diner. All the buildings showed their age, and perhaps because of it, had been granted the grace to comfortably blend into their surroundings. He drove through following his directions.
A furlong past the church he turned off the road in front of a modest white house with pale blue trim. A covered porch hosted a hanging swing and shaded the front. To one side a flagstone chimney grew from a widened fireplace, while beside it doors lay at an angle that could only lead down into a cellar. White curtains had been pulled back from the windows and the panes in the front door. The Father noted that the stairs leading up to the porch had wider treads than most front steps, and sturdy railings bounded both sides. Gravel covered a parking area large enough for four cars. Lancaster Merrik parked his rental next to the single vehicle that was present, an aging pickup truck.
He found that the front door opened onto an informal waiting room with a sofa and a couple of comfortable chairs, all mismatched and worn. A low coffee table held a selection of popular magazines, Readers Digest, Sports Illustrated, Woman's Day, and National Geographic Kids. No New Yorker, no Wilson Quarterly, no Psychology Today?and no receptionist. From somewhere out of sight a subdued radio played a news station. A coat tree hosting a single coat stood sentinel beside a single door. Above it a schoolroom clock displayed the time to no one. No one was waiting for the door to open.
Lancaster Merrik took a seat and waited, noting that the clock showed 18 minutes before the hour. He let his mind drift, imagining this room when the furniture had been slightly newer, and the figures of a scared teen and her mother waited for the clock to show a quarter of the hour. Kerry Walsh had once waited here, and on her first visit she'd have had no idea of the changes that awaited her beyond that door. She'd have had no way of anticipating just how different the woman she would meet would be from every other MD she'd known. Perhaps she'd already been relieved to find that no cold, busy receptionist awaited them, ready to turn them over to a cruel nurse and an uncaring doctor. More likely, she'd been so tightly held by her fears that she hadn't even noticed.
Fifteen minutes before the hour the door opened and a late middle-aged farmer came out. He spoke softly to another person behind him in a hallway, then turned and glanced at the priest. After a moment of surprise he nodded to Father Merrik and muttered, "'morning, Father," before reclaiming his coat and moving towards the front door.
Father Merrik had offered him a smile and a nod in return, but his attention had already been shifting to the woman emerging behind him. The soft thumps of twin crutches marked her labored gait as she moved into the waiting room and greeted her guest. Father Merrik rose and crossed the room to join her.
At closer range he noted the fine lines at the corners of her eyes, warm gray-blue eyes that were still bright and clear. The first fine silver traced amidst her auburn locks, almost like veins of precious metal in its native ore. She wore a flannel shirt with plain white buttons and comfortable blue jeans. Shiny stainless steel leg braces clamped over her pants to support her, and the twin canes were clamped to her forearms. She stood straight but would never move with easy. Father Merrik saw that the years had aged but not defeated her; she had met her challenges with grace and dignity and had prevailed to attain her place in a community that had accepted her. The sight warmed his heart.
"Ana, you look wonderful," he said, happiness beaming from his wrinkled face and lighting his pale eyes, "I'm so glad to see you again. It's been far too long."
"Lancaster," she said, capturing his hands in her own and giving them a squeeze, "I agree. I never thought it would be so long before I saw you again. Somehow the years just slipped by. You look incredible?honestly, you don't seem to have aged more than a few years since I saw you last. It's amazing, really, especially knowing some of the places you've been. How's the heart?"
"No one's been more amazed than me, Ana. My heart's better now than when I knew you before. I don't need the medication anymore?haven't carried the nitroglycerine pills in decades. I've been blessed, Ana, and I feel wonderful."
"Then God's been very generous to you, Lancaster," Dr. Ann said, still somewhat astonished, "you don't look a day over 70. You were only a handful of years from retirement age back when I was your student. Surely you must be in your nineties by now. It's truly incredible."
Father Merrik chuckled. He was 93 and had been 62 when she'd left to open her practice. The heart condition had made him look and feel much older back then. "I think maybe my heart ailment had prematurely aged me back when you knew me. Freedom from it has been rejuvenating. I'm thankful every day."
"Well, neither of us is really enjoying the robust health of youth," Anastasia joked, having never been robust even in her youth, "let's go back to my office and get comfortable."
She led him down the short hallway to the rear of the building. The priest noted the assurance of her movements and nodded to himself. He sensed no deterioration in her condition. They entered a large room and he looked around to get a feeling for the atmosphere that she'd created. He found that it was understated and homey, a comfortable, non-threatening environment in which to offer counseling to simple people. Windows along one side and the rear wall let in abundant sunlight. She had a rolltop desk with a padded swivel chair against the opposite wall beneath a clock, and in the center of the room were a sofa and an armchair. A soothing abstract print of a blossom, perhaps an O'Keeffe, hung opposite the windows. He saw no framed diplomas or awards. She gestured him to the sofa where he took a seat. Anastasia remained standing for a moment.
"Would you like coffee, Lancaster, or maybe something else?" She offered. "I have some fruit punch for the youngsters or perhaps some ice water?"
"If you join me, I'll have whatever you're having," he answered, "but I'll be perfectly happy to just sit and chat a while."
"That means lemonade," she said, laughing and remembering many similar occasions.
She clumped over to a closet and opened the door, revealing a set up much like the one he maintained in the alcove at the hospital. There was a coffeepot, mugs hanging on pegs, a sugar bowl, and a small refrigerator. She selected a pair of mugs and filled them from a chilled pitcher, then dropped in a few ice cubes from a bowl in the tiny freezer section before returning and taking a seat on the sofa beside him.
Father Merrik took both mugs from her as he often had in the years long past, leaving her hands free so she could remove and set aside her crutches. When she turned back to face him he handed her a mug and took a sip from his own.
A sigh escaped him as he savored the cold drink. Somehow she'd always made the simple joy of lemonade memorable. It hadn't changed in 30 years.
"Still full of flavor and not too sweet," he said in praise, "better than anything out of a carton. Everyone puts in too much sugar. You honor God's lemons by letting their nature threaten to cause a pucker," he jested. She met his comment with twinkling eyes.
"I've missed you, Lancaster," she said honestly, without reticence or any hinted reproof.
"I've missed you as well, my dear," he told her just as honestly, "I should have sought you out long ago, and now when I've finally come it's because I need your help."
"What can I do?" Her tone carried only concern.
"I'm working at the hospital again, Ana," he began, nodding yes to the question in her eyes, "and I've met a young intern who's become a friend?a mutual friend." He noted the sharper questioning expression on her face. "I have another 'special' patient who seems to have be developing an unhealthy attraction to this young woman. For her own safety I need to know more about this intern's background."
Anastasia Penkowski felt the tremors of fear in her stomach. The situation her one-time mentor was describing profoundly scared her. Long ago he had confided in her about his work and at first she hadn't believed a single word he'd said. But during many talks over lemonade or coffee she had become convinced. And in 30 years she had never breathed a word of it to anyone. They wouldn't have believed a word of it anyway.
Demonic possession had no place in modern science. It wasn't even part of modern religion. It was the dark residue of an older world, a terror beyond what the human mind could withstand. Mankind had insulated itself against belief in what could overthrow the mind. Rationality and science were the shields of the modern psyche, constraining the horrors to which people subjected themselves. Only in some corners of the Third World did belief in demons persist as a reality?and in those places, possession still occurred. When it happened in a modern country, society lacked the tools to combat it, the understanding to respect the threat, and the psychic resilience to survive. There were only a few warriors left who could confront such an enemy and prevail.
When she'd first known Lancaster Merrik, he'd only recently recovered from a bout with a demon. The ritual of exorcism had nearly killed him. It had killed his assistant. She had no idea of how many times he'd faced such horrors, horrors that would overthrow the mind of anyone willing to confront them without the faith and belief that they truly existed, someone who understood just how dire a treat they presented. It scared her practically out of her wits.
"I fear for her, Ana," Father Merrik said softly, "the demon preys on her and she retains fears from her youth. She is vulnerable, Ana, and this demon has already killed. She drove her first therapist to suicide."
"That's horrible. She must be terrified, this intern. Does she know what happened to the other therapist?"
"She knows and she is afraid, but not afraid enough. The demon spoke to her unprovoked, drawing a voice and words from her memories. When we talked about what those words meant she mentioned having had your help as a teenager. Unfortunately the scars are deep, though well accommodated. They provide the demon with an avenue of attack." Father Merrik sighed. What really worried him wasn't so much the demon's threat as the intern's interest. "I fear she is becoming fascinated. When we spoke she gave only token objections to the existance of the demon, and the demon's proofs were compelling. I'm quite sure she already believes in its existance. I fear that she will act on the compulsion to confront this creature, and she is not ready for such an encounter. She will certainly lose her soul."
"It's Kerry Walsh, isn't it, Lancaster?" He nodded "yes" in response. "She's about the right age and she went into psychiatry. It couldn't be anyone else I've treated. In some ways, it couldn't be a worse coincidence that she's the one the demon's fixating on."
Anastasia took a deep, slow breath and stared at her mug while thinking. The right of patient confidentiality was a primary concern and a legal requirement. She could cite it in a court of law and very few circumstances could compel her to break that privilege and talk about a patient. But it was Lancaster who was asking, and what he was facing paid no obeisance to the laws of man. According to his claims years ago, the demons hadn't paid respect to the laws of Almighty God himself.
"You've diagnosed your patient as MPD/DID?" She asked.
"Yes, though it's an atypical case. It's enough for the records."
"And mostly you only see the demon manifesting in one guise or another?"
"Just like in Georgetown." She said in a fear-hushed voice.
"No." She looked up in surprise at his denial, her expression prompting him for more details. "This one is craftier, Ana, less bent on simply experiencing the flesh and corrupting it. There's been no self-mutilation. The possession could persist for a very long time because this intelligence doesn't act out in the rampantly uncontrolled way I described. In Georgetown, the demon would have consumed that little girl in a few weeks. This demon has already possessed my patient's body for over half a year and it is waiting for something. It's still acting on opportunities for the destruction of others, but by psychological means rather than physical assault. It's driven by cunning rather then rage and I sense that this demon is focused on a particular goal. What that goal is though, I don't know. I wish I did."
"What did Kerry tell you of her past?" This time Anastasia's voice trembled with fear.
"She described a history of extreme anxiety and phobia centered on her prior doctor. The precipitating factor was the sadistic verbalizations of the doctor's nurse, specifically regarding her impending first pelvic exam. She characterized the doctor himself as cold and distant. The time period was from her 9th to 15th years, coinciding developmentally with puberty and adolescence, a very difficult time at best. She credits your therapy with resolving her symptoms and she continues to hold you in high regard."
Anastasia Penkowski heaved a sigh. Her ex-patient had been scarred by her ordeal and she was still diminishing its impact. It was an accommodation based on denial and perhaps self-induced amnesia. Obviously the lessons she'd learned in her field had aided Kerry in fabricating a less painful personal history. Bad as it sounded, the reality had been far worse.
"When we first met, Kerry Walsh was fully dissociated, having no less than 5 highly developed alter egos and 2 partially developed ones. She suffered from MPD/DID, a classic case presenting all the typical symptoms of the disorder." Dr. Penkowski looked at the expression of shock on the face of her one-time mentor. Obviously he hadn't even suspected the true nature of the intern's past psychopathy. "Lancaster, eventually I discerned that her persona domina was a very tough 12-year-old boy, the protector of the younger alters. By then the persona prima was an extremely withdrawn 15-year-old girl who often presented as catatonic. The Kerry Walsh you've met didn't exist until her family spontaneously integrated. This was after about 4 years of intensive therapy during which the persona domina came to trust me enough to introduce the others. Needless to say, her removal from her previous environment was a major factor as well. She'd basically been a feral child. The authorities found her locked in a filthy pen in her parents' basement. She'd been subjected to intensive and persistent traumas and abuse up to the age of 11. At that time her parents were arrested, prosecuted, and sentenced to jail, and she was remanded to a psychiatric hospital." Anastasia had tears in her eyes as she recited Kerry's history. "Kerry was virtually unsocialized. She couldn't communicate effectively or relate to others. She stayed on a ward for almost 5 years?she was locked up for the second time at 11 years old, Lancaster. She'd lived her whole life as a prisoner, first of her parents and then of the state. It broke my heart."
"Ana, I don't know what to say. It's no wonder she's suppressed her memories. It's absolutely horrible. You made amazing progress with her though. Soon she'll be an above average practitioner. She's certainly intelligent?very sharp. I would never have guessed just how far she's come with your help."
"I did everything I could to help her. I barely practiced outside of working with her during those years. All I could do was work on trust. It took three years just to get her to the point where I could take her off the ward for short outings, but by then I could talk to her persona domina. He was so smart and so tough?such a survivor. I started calling him Mick since he liked the Rolling Stones. In fact, I gave most of the alters their names. They'd never even had the luxury of names before. There were two who I couldn't name though. One was just a body. Mick said she looked exactly like the catatonic persona prima but hadn't really been born since there was nothing inside. He said she was 'the dummy' and she was the one her parents 'played doctor' with. Another was just a rock. It took the most severe beatings while the others hid."
Father Merrik sat shaking his head. The details portrayed a horrific psychobiography of a thoroughly traumatized child. Very seldom had the priest approached such suffering despite his decades in some of the poorest locales on the face of the earth. And that it had been done as the product of years of conscious and inhuman choices by the child's parents made it all the more appalling. The sorrow that clutched at his heart was for Ana as much as for Kerry Walsh. His favorite student sat silent beside him with tears running down her cheeks. There had been no distance between therapist and patient in her treatment of Kerry Walsh, no place for clinical detachment. Anastasia had become fully involved. Perhaps only in that way had she made the astonishing progress that she had, for she had achieved nothing less than the redemption a lost soul. He reached out and laid a hand on Ana's shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze.
"I know I got closer to Kerry than a therapist should, especially with a patient who was so badly hurt. The chances of success seemed so slim in the beginning, but she was such a compelling case. I couldn't help myself. My heart just went out to her and I couldn't withhold anything. Maybe anything less than a total commitment wouldn't have worked. I don't know. I'd never treated a similar case before and I haven't since. All I know is that on the day the pieces of that girl became one girl, I felt like it had been worthwhile."
Anastasia drew a shuddering breath but she'd regained control over her emotions. The worst of her story was past and she continued on a more positive note. "Oh, she was still pretty shaky. She was 16 and painfully shy. Socially she was very backward. I'd say her skills were retarded by at least 10 years. I spent another three years with her so she could develop the interpersonal abilities that would let her live a normal life as an adult. Along the way she grew into a very attractive young woman. We still talk pretty regularly and I've kept tabs on her over the years. From what I know, she's done outstandingly well."
Father Merrik nodded to himself. In his opinion, Anastasia had done everything right with her patient, even if it hadn't been by the book. Few people understood better than he that procedure and protocol were the crutch of the uncreative in fields where rote behavior translated into mediocrity or outright failure. Under the same circumstances, he probably would have followed the same course of treatment. That point of view was implicit in the training he'd once given Ana. If anything, the old priest recognized that his lessons had predisposed his student to her course of action in Kerry's case.
"You know, Ana, that results prove the method. In this case I agree that nothing less than total commitment would have sufficed. Kerry's case was so extreme that she needed to experience an emotional environment completely at odds with everything she'd ever known. You took her from an impersonal institutional environment to one of total and sincere involvement. I'm sure she'd never experienced that from another living being before. The relationship you offered her gave her an option to dwelling wholly within herself and an opportunity to rely on someone other than her alters. You showed her a world worth living in beyond the realm of her own skin. What you did was apply a shock treatment of love and respect. I think you handled it perfectly."
Dr. Penkowski gave him a grateful smile, but she still had her doubts.
"I still suspect that I could have done more or done something differently since she's fabricated her personal history. That's worrisome to me. My guess is that Kerry's completely buried everything relating to her real past and is living in complete denial of it. She failed to acknowledge any of it when she spoke with you."
"That doesn't surprise me a bit," Father Merrik told her, "and who's to say that it's a bad thing? With a past as traumatic as hers I would expect anyone to try to reject it after having escaped. Revisiting those memories under stress could cause her to revert. Kerry's highly adaptable; both her pathology and her reintegration prove that. Early in her life she coped with an untenable situation by dissociating, and she survived. Now she's recreating her past so as to remove its threat. Again, she's applying a shrewd survival mechanism." Anastasia listened with complete concentration. Lancaster Merrik was again the mentor and she wasn't too old or too proud to learn. "The most surprising thing to me about this is that she has so completely integrated her fabricated history that she fooled not only me, but the demon as well. It taunted her with words and a voice taken from those artificial memories."
Ana had forgotten Father Merrik's earlier statement that, "The demon spoke to her unprovoked, drawing a voice and words from her memories." After a moment she recalled his words and her eyes widened in amazement.
"Then for all practical purposes, the fabrication is fully integrated since it exists in her subconscious," she stated. He nodded in agreement. "Do you think this is another mode of dissociative behavior? Dissociating her past and present identities rather than resorting to simultaneous identities?"
"I'm uncertain about that, Ana," Lancaster Merrik replied at first. "If it is, then I would say that she's at even greater risk from the demon. It may stress her to the point that she again utilizes dissociative strategies to survive since it would indicate a predisposition to that behavior." After a lengthy pause for thought he continued. "In fact, I would have to say that your suspicions are well founded. She survived using a dissociative strategy before and so it would still be a functionally valid part of her coping repertoire."
Anastasia Penkowski regarded him with horror. No one should suffer such things twice in a single lifetime.
"You keep her away from that patient, Lancaster," she begged, "if you even suspect that she might dissociate again, it's imperative that she not have any contact with that demon."
"I agree completely," Father Merrik told her. "Originally I had little doubt that such a confrontation would be injurious to Kerry. I feared for her before I knew the truth about her past. Now I have no doubts at all. I'll do everything I can to make sure she never approaches that patient."
"Thank you, Lancaster. Kerry's dear to me?not just as a patient, or even as a friend. When she reintegrated she was still a minor and couldn't be released from the institution on her own. I became her legal guardian. Lancaster, I was the closest thing to a parent she ever had, and she's like a daughter to me."
In his experience, seldom had a therapist made a more global commitment to their patient. God bless you, Ana, he thought. Few parents have ever given their child more. I had intended to spend another month studying Angela D.'s progression, but for you and Kerry I will proceed to the treatment phase immediately. It's the least I can do.
After their fall, Satan organized his realm, ordering his demons as his Creator had commanded. He did God's bidding, tempting and corrupting the souls of mankind down through the ages, beginning right at the beginning with Eve. The Great Serpent brought forbidden knowledge into the world along with all the sins he'd once created in heaven, and soon he added murder to the list when Cain slew his brother Abel. Thereafter other sins were devised, based in the delights of the flesh of which he'd known nothing while in heaven. Satan reveled in his mission, debasing all who came to worship him and destroying many more who did not.
Despite his success in ruling his realm, Satan was ever displeased, for deep inside he knew that all he did had been foreseen and commanded by God. Even after being damned, the ex-Seraph was doing his Creator's bidding as he always had. He knew the inarguable truth that he had never been his Creator's equal, and more than ever, he resented his servitude. That resentment poisoned his spirit, turning it ever darker and feeding his malice. Great wars and pestilences and suffering he brought upon the earth, gleefully afflicting mankind, but nothing satisfied his unquenchable compulsion to spread pain, for nothing could assuage his jealousy of his Creator. It left him mean-spirited, even over petty concerns.
Immediately following the fall from heaven, Satan had gathered and examined his host. When he discerned the residual love between the ex-Hashmalim and the ex-Tarshishim, he resolved to thwart any expression of it, for being derived from their old existance in God's heaven, it had no place in his hell. Love turned his stomach, but worse, it caused him to fear lest it spread to infect his demons. He wanted them to be resentful of what they'd lost, not depressed with longing for their prior state of grace. So even in those first days he thwarted their search for each other.
Thereafter he contrived to separate the demons they'd become, and down the long span of ages, though they sought each other, never did they meet. Satan ordered these two demons into different places and forced upon them different duties, yet even he marked that someday they would indeed be reunited. Here again he perceived God's meddling in his kingdom of hell. The demon that had been the Hashmalim became a cruel tormentor and was assigned to exacerbating conflict and war. She was a scale-clad form with claws of burnished iron, but still gazed upon the world with blue eyes. The demon that had once been the Tarshishim, though she now promoted mental instability and unreasoning fear, persisted in retaining the green eyes that had once beheld the cosmos and the light of heaven. It irritated the Devil no end. His own eyes, which had once shone like bright lamps filled with the Holy Light, were now as black and dead as coal.
Through millennium after millennium the two demons separately roamed the earth. Having martialed and managed many angelic spirits in God's name while in heaven, the damned Hashmalim found it easy to sway the souls of mortals. Sometimes she tempted them to dreams of conquest, playing adversary against adversary to generate woeful conflict. At other times she prompted greed and lust for power to bring oppression and eventual wars of liberation. She even resorted to the possession of bodies, giving rise to mad dictators, insane despots, and mindless tyrants. It was all the same to her. Yet wherever she went, into whatever country or realm, she always searched for some sign of her beloved, hoping to recognize the influence of the damned Tarshishim.
The demon who had once been a Tarshishim was charged with overthrowing the minds of mortals, conquering them with fear and insanity, and striking down the righteous with madness. Having directed the flow of cosmic energy in heaven, she now directed the flow of mental energy on the physical plane. She provided thoughts of despair, inspired depression and hopelessness, and spread unwarranted suspicion among leaders and commoners alike. At times she too possessed the bodies of the living, driving them to madness. Many had heard her voice in their head, suggesting acts of recklessness or depravity. She did her job. Yet as she moved through the world she sought for her beloved, hoping to recognize by her actions, the spirit of the demon she'd become. In many places she found that events had been shaped by hands that could have been the ex-Hashmalim's, but many demons promoted conflict and war. She was never sure.
One enduring trait that both spirits shared was the unending commitment to seek each other out. One enduring faith both clung to was the belief in each other's love. Despite 10,000 years of failure, neither gave up, for being immortal, there was always another day and another chance. And to both, faith came as second nature. So even on earth and in the pits of hell, a flicker of heaven's divine love persisted. The Devil hated it, but God saw and thought it good.
"For even into the den of iniquity shall I send a ray of light, as even into the hearts of men shall I send the Holy Spirit. And the faithful shall find their redemption in My Name." The thwarted but enduring love of two demons had given proof to his plan.
"Don't just stand there, little girl, the doctor's waiting."
Gaaaah! Kerry bolted upright in her chair, while icy fingers clutched her heart as it beat like a hummingbird's wings. The wildly pumping muscle had practically leapt up her esophagus and now she swallowed convulsively to resettle it in her chest.
She was shaking and she blinked to help reorient herself. The low, slanting rays of late afternoon sunlight were spilling across her desk from the window on the opposite side of the office that she shared with another intern. A glance toward the door showed a wall clock taunting her with 5:23pm. Last time she'd looked it had been just before 5:15.
"I must've dozed off," Kerry muttered to herself after she caught her breath. "I need coffee and I need it now," she decided as she got up from her desk.
Dr. Walsh hadn't gotten enough sleep the night before. At home, Sharon had been preoccupied with the show's first day, the review, and the early sales. She'd babbled on about it through dinner and into the evening. Later, after a distracted session of lovemaking, she'd fallen into a sated sleep, leaving Kerry lying restless in bed. She'd been upset, but her reticence had kept her from broaching the topic with her lover, and so she'd been left to face it alone. The patient's words had come back to haunt her in the stillness, and the dark wasn't her friend. After 45 minutes of gingerly tossing and turning she'd gotten up and padded into the studio. Soft music and a glass of wine hadn't helped. They'd left her in a suspended state of fatigued sleeplessness that went on and on as memories of the nurse had prodded her back to wakefulness every time she'd started to drift off. By the time she'd finally fallen into an uncomfortable snooze in a chair, only four hours had remained before her radio alarm clock would wake her with a blaring news program. That had happened all to soon. Kerry did not do sleep deprivation well.
Out in the hall sat the vending machine that dispensed the dark, bitter, caffeinated fluid that passed for coffee at the hospital. Making it palatable required at least three packets of sugar, and when the blast of sucrose wore off, the fall in blood sugar levels felt almost like the approach of a diabetic coma. Artificial sweeteners were just plain icky. Standing in front of the machine searching her pockets for change, Kerry was overtaken with dissatisfaction.
"This isn't good or good or me and I'm not so drowsy that I won't know the difference."
Her hands ceased their search for coins and she stood looking indecisively at the machine. More than anything she wished for a real cup of coffee?coffee like the priest brewed in his spacious, comfortable office. Without thinking about it her feet began to move her down the hall towards the rear of the building.
Kerry stood outside the heavy wooden door for a moment before knocking. Well, he said I'd be welcome to come by, she thought, a little self-conscious for dropping in on such a senior practitioner just to beg a cup of coffee. And after all, he only has one patient, she rationalized. She knocked again. For a few more minutes she waited but no one answered. Oh well, I guess he's not in, she decided.
"Dr. Walsh, what are you doing down there?" Dr. McKenzie's voice startled her and made her flinch. He was looking at her with curiosity from the juncture of the hall.
"Dr. McKenzie," she managed to reply, "I was just coming to visit Father Merrik."
"In the old custodian's office?" Her superior asked in surprise. "It's been empty for years. It's s storage space. What would Father Merrik be doing in there?"
For a moment, Kerry regarded him in amazement. How could he not know that the priest had set the room up as a very pleasant office?
"Uh, Dr. McKenzie?I met with him here yesterday. He's been using it as an office. He said he knew it was unoccupied and had asked for it?to be out of the way."
The senior clinician gave her a quizzical glance, then looked carefully at the door. He strode over and gave the knob a twist. When it didn't budge, he drew out a ring of keys and chose a master. After pushing it into the lock, he turned the knob and opened the door. Kerry looked past him as he swung the door open wide.
The space was just as she remembered it. Beside her, Dr. McKenzie gawked.
"Amazing," he muttered, moving into the room a few paces. He stared at the couch and chair, the pedestal with its potted fern, and the heavy, old-fashioned desk. Sunlight washed the space, lending the office an antique atmosphere. "I had no idea. In a dozen years I've never set foot in here before."
Dr. McKenzie walked over to Father Merrik's desk. His eyes swept the carved rack with its lone meerschaum pipe. No humidor or ashtray accompanied it. He looked at the alcove with its coffeepot and refrigerator. He took in the pair of doors, coat-closet and restroom.
Kerry had followed him in and joined him where he stood in front of Father Merrik's desk. She noticed the simple black telephone, unlike the multiline version on her own desk, the worn blotter, and a couple of old books, one of which was lying open. Her eyes roved over a page and were drawn to the heading in the top margin above the text; The Holy Rite for the Exorcism of Unclean Spirits and the Return to Grace of the Soul.
"Incredible," Dr. McKenzie whispered behind her, taking in the wainscoting and the large oriental style rug. She tore her eyes from the book and turned to face him.
"Father Merrik said he'd worked here a long time ago and had remembered this place from then. When he came back, the administration let him use it. I guess he wanted to create a less visible presence at the hospital. He's really kind of a special case, with just one patient and no other duties, isn't he, Dr. McKenzie?"
Dr. McKenzie was staring at Kerry again. With effort he contained his surprise and digested what the young intern had told him. It was more than he knew about the old priest himself. All he could do was nod in agreement.
"Yes, he is a special case, Dr. Walsh. To be honest, I don't know much about him. In fact, I haven't really even gotten an opportunity to speak with him yet, except very briefly when he first arrived." Dr. McKenzie shook his head. "So he's worked here at this hospital before?"
"If I remember it right, he said that was in the early 70s," Kerry answered.
"I was barely out of med. school then," Dr. McKenzie said, "I wonder how long he was here and what his duties were?" He chuckled. "He must have left on good terms for the administration to hand him the key to this place now. By hospital standards it's palatial."
"It suits him," Kerry said seriously. "It's comfortable, unpretentious, and charming, and it doesn't feel like part of a large hospital. It's kind of like an oasis."
"And a bit like a step back in time," Dr. McKenzie said, looking appreciatively at the furnishings, "that looks like an authentic analyst's couch from the 20s, and the potted fern over there could be from the turn of the century. It almost makes me wish I'd been around when things were simpler." He had a warm, relaxed smile on his face, an expression Kerry had never seen before. In the next moment, he appraised his own emotional state. "It is an oasis," he marveled, "for constant emotional rejuvenation. I could learn from this man. Maybe I'll get a plant for my office."
He moved towards the door, gesturing for Kerry to proceed him back out into the hall. Before they left he locked the room. Then the intercom paged him for some of the endless business of the hospital and he hastened back toward the wards, the hint of a smile still shaping his lips. Father Merrik's oasis ended at the door like a broken spell. You get yourself a nice plant, Kerry thought, and I'm going to bring in my own coffeepot.
On the way back to her office Kerry resigned herself to a cup of machine brewed swill. Then the intercom came to life again. With startling urgency, it was summoning hospital security to the R Wing. An emergency. Kerry immediately stopped under a speaker and listened. Somehow she knew beyond any doubt that Father Merrik's new patient was involved. It was just a gut feeling, but it rang with a visceral certainty. Without thinking she began walking quickly toward the main stairs.
Two flights up she came through the stairwell doors and into the outer hallway leading to the R Wing. The guard station and the barred security gate lay directly ahead. Just a few feet on her side of the gate, half-a-dozen security guards were standing in a circle around a pair of frantically working emergency medical technicians. At the center of the assemblage lay an unconscious figure on a low, wheeled stretcher. The patient was partially covered with green surgical drapes. A few of the psychiatric staffers stood in a loose gaggle along the wall watching the drama. Kerry saw that they seemed to be cringing away from the activity despite their fascination with it.
Kerry made her way over to them and shot a resident she knew a questioning glance.
"What happened, Arnie?" She asked.
"Don't really know," the doctor told her, "looks like a guard was assaulted."
Kerry looked more closely at the body on the stretcher and realized that it was Raymond, the afternoon shift guard for the R Wing. She recognized him by sight, but since she always came through on the morning rounds, she didn't really know him. He looked like he'd been severely battered.
"Could you tell how badly he was hurt?"
She noted that the man wasn't moving. Her eyes tracked back along a smeared trail of blood that led from the stretcher. Past the action, far down the hall on the other side of the locked gate, she saw a baton lying on the floor in a pool of blood. Raymond had been bleeding fast.
"They already had him on the stretcher before I got here," Arnie told her, "but it must be bad since they haven't moved him yet. I guess they'll stabilize him first."
At that moment there was a collective groan from the group surrounding the stretcher and an EMT drew a green surgical drape over the stricken guard's face. Kerry could see the shock expressed in the slumping postures of those nearby. The EMTs got to their feet, one of them shaking her head. The guards stepped back and some turned away. One took a few steps and pounded his fist against the wall.
"Or not," Arnie muttered.
At that moment Dr. McKenzie and an administrator in a business suit came through the doorway from the stairwell. They were hurrying, breathing heavily as if they'd run up the stairs from the administration offices on the ground level, three floors below. Dr. McKenzie quickly swept his gaze over his staffers and then turned his attention to the EMTs and the victim. The administrator hadn't focused on anything but the body.
"What happened here?" The man asked abruptly. He looked from one medical technician to the other.
"Call for emergency medical assistance came in and we arrived as two guards were bringing the injured guard out of the restricted wing," the male EMT answered. "He was already unconscious. We assessed him and tried to control the bleeding. We got most of the external hemorrhaging stopped but there was massive trauma to his head and probably internal thoracic damage as well."
The man nodded and turned to the guards. "Who brought him out?"
Two of the guards stepped forward, one with assurance, the other a bit more hesitantly. The first guard spoke, nodding at the other.
"Bill was on the second floor and arrived a few seconds before I did, but he was unlocking the security gate and we went into R Wing together. Raymond was alone in the hallway, just sinking to his knees before he keeled over and lost consciousness. I radioed for the medics. He looked bad but we decided to move him out of the R Wing and we brought him outside the gate. The EMTs and the other security guards were arriving then, almost at the same time."
The administrator nodded to him, digesting the concise report. Moving an injured man wasn't an ideal action, but if there'd been an assailant then no one living had been present to see whom it was or where they'd gone. He could understand the guards wanting to move their colleague away from any potential further threats.
"Sir," the second guard began, "when I first came through the doors from the stairwell I could have sworn I heard Ray yelling, 'Get off me, get off me', but by the time I got to the gate he was already falling. At no time did I see anyone else in there with him."
The other guards looked at him in surprise. Everyone had been too preoccupied with the emergency to have heard anything about this, and even the other guard who'd only arrived seconds later hadn't heard anything. The administrator nodded, looked down the hall, and then looked back at the body lying on the stretcher. He stood still, pondering the chain of events. Finally he posed a question.
"Are all the patients secured?"
The guards looked at each other. One of them shrugged. The guard who'd spoken first thought for a moment and then answered for the group.
"None of the doors were ajar and they lock automatically when they close. It's all mechanical so no electrical system malfunctions that could have affected that. I'm certain that no one's entered or left since we got here."
The second guard, who'd actually been first on the scene added, "The gate was secured when I got here. Raymond would have been locked in with whoever assaulted him, but he was alone. I know that doesn't make sense, but short of flying out a window, this gate is the only way in or out, and I didn't pass anyone on the stairs coming up."
The administrator strode over to the stairwell, pushed open the door, and looked at the roof access ladder that was bolted to the wall. He came back just as quickly, giving the guard a pointed look.
"The hatch for roof access is released by a crash bar that sets off the alarm system," the guard told him, anticipating his question. "We would have heard a very loud fire alarm go off if anyone had opened the hatch."
"But since the incident, no one's visually confirmed that the patients are accounted for," the man stated, going back to his earlier question. He looked around the circle of guards. "That is, no one's been through the gate since the incident?"
"That's correct," the first guard admitted.
"Check them," the administrator ordered. He turned to Dr. McKenzie. "Doctor, would you mind accompanying the guards just to check on the patients. You might notice if there's been some change?something medical the guards aren't trained to recognize."
Dr. McKenzie nodded and moved to join a pair of guards who were opening the lock. As they moved into R Wing, the administrator looked at the rest of the people who were present and asked if anyone else had anything to add. No one had anything to say.
The administrator was doing damage control. He was searching, hoping to find a clue to help explain why an employee had died violently a few minutes before. Raymond was a union member and probably had family. The administrator wanted to protect the hospital from any potential liability by creating as cut and dried a report as possible before the police arrived. If their investigation resulted in an unfavorable or unresolved situation, then there could be trouble. Mysteries led to speculation, which often led to litigation. There always seemed to be a lawyer lurking nearby who'd try to convince a jury that negligence had been a factor, that the death had been wrongful, and that the hospital was liable for damages. It was so predictable that he knew the script by heart. He sighed and shook his head. If a maniac were to blame then things would be easier.
Kerry Walsh watched Dr. McKenzie and the two guards make their way down one side of the hallway and up the other. At every door a guard gave the knob a tug, assuring them that it was locked fast. Dr. McKenzie looked in through the small, reinforced glass windows and nodded to the guards that the patient was present and that nothing seemed amiss. They tiptoed past the puddle of blood and the abandoned baton, careful not to disturb what was really a crime scene with physical evidence. When they finally started back to the gate, they'd confirmed the presence and status of every patient in the R Wing.
After passing back out through the gate, Dr. McKenzie met with the administrator and told him that the patients were secure.
"Whoever attacked the guard wasn't a patient from the restricted wing," he reported. "None of the doors were open, no patients were missing, and none of them showed any signs of having been in a struggle. They weren't agitated and there was no sign of blood inside the rooms or on their clothing." The administrator nodded. The report was a mixed blessing. After a pause, Dr. McKenzie reassured him further. "Most of the patients probably weren't even aware that a man had lost his life nearby. Most of them were too heavily medicated and/or restrained."
The administrator shook his head and took a last look at the scene. "Page me when the police arrive to investigate," he ordered a guard. Then he walked out through the doors and back down the stairs.
Dr. McKenzie watched him go and then turned to his staffers. "Let's get back to the wards," he suggested simply, before following the administrator downstairs.
Next to Raymond's corpse, the EMTs were going over their paperwork. Kerry and the rest of the psychiatric staff trailed after Dr. McKenzie, leaving the guards to await the police. Just as they were going through the doors, a soul-petrifying scream came from the R Wing. Everyone's heads jerked up and they spun around to look back towards the disturbance. It had been the shriek of a man in utter terror. The guards leapt towards the gate, scrambling frantically to unlock the bars. Then a voice, muffled by padded walls but still clearly audible, cried out from one of the locked rooms.
"Oh God, let me out of here! I want my body back!" It was Raymond's voice. It stopped the guards in mid-motion.
And in the following silence a taunting, cold woman's voice answered his plea.
"Tell it to the priest, little boy."
Kerry and the others had already stopped dead in their tracks. Everyone was staring back down the hallway towards the R Wing in horrified disbelief. The guards had halted with the gate half-open, unsure of what to do. The EMTs were motionless. For a few moments everyone was frozen in a tableau of shock and indecision.
"Get in here, little girl. We're waiting for you!" Kerry heard, but no one else reacted.
Kerry's whole world spun up crazily on a blade's edge. The vertigo of anxiety struck her like a fist in the stomach. For a moment she wobbled unsteadily, her legs as solid as Jell-O, her feet miles away. She felt herself heave up the bitter, hours-old dregs of her lunch as a little girl's voice in her mind screamed. No! No! No! Don't wanna go in there! And then she felt herself falling, but thankfully everything went black before she landed. She'd never liked slamming down.
There came a time after many lives of men, when the spirit of the damned Hashmalim was ensconced in possession of a body in precincts of Galilee. The Sabbath had fallen among the Hebrews and a crowd had entered the synagogue. Among those inside waited the man possessed by the demon, for through him she sought to disrupt the service and by a degree, estrange the people from God and undermine His power to unite them. She was ready to command the body to flail like a dervish while blaming God for the affliction, when into the synagogue walked the teacher whom the congregation had come to hear. Upon seeing him she immediately stopped, completely forgetting her mission, entranced by this mortal son of Adam who was so much more than mortal eyes could see.
The teacher was plain in appearance, not rich in wealth, but overwhelming in the light of the spirit. It radiated from him, blinding in its intensity, unlike any light she had seen since her fall from heaven. It even outshone the light of her beloved Tarshishim that lived undiminished in her memory. She cowered back within the crowd, and with an icy grip forbade the body to seek out this teacher, for she perceived that her hold would be tenuous against his command. It did her no good.
Practically straight away the teacher came before her, almost as though he had come to the synagogue seeking her out in the first place. The body flapped a bit, a spasm that illustrated her own spiritual uncertainty. With her demon's vision she saw the flashing light in his eyes as he stared at her, and like the light that had shone in her beloved's eyes long ago, it was the light of heaven.
Inside her the spirit was moved, for demon though she was now, in ages past she had been numbered among the mighty spirits of the angelic Order of Dominations, and she knew the light of her God. In those moments each knew the other, not as they appeared before the congregation, but as they lay bared before the eyes of their Lord. She knew who and what he was. His stare pierced her and she was ashamed that she had fallen and been damned. At the same time, these residual feelings of the fallen angel filled her soul with rejoicing that the Holy Spirit had come among mankind, not for herself, but for them. It produced an unresolvable conflict between survival, obedience to her Creator, and the lord He had commanded she serve, for He was walking the earth to defeat her kind. The demon's discomfort grew until she could bare it no longer.
"Let us alone!" She screamed through the body's voice. "What have we done to thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? Art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, Holy One of God."
With the tormented voice of the possessed man the demon she had become gave testimony to the Son of the God who had cast her from heaven. Before the congregation, her words, being the proof gleaned from an enemy, rang truer than the praises of the priests. He looked at her with stern, sad eyes.
"Hold they peace and come out of him," the Son of God commanded, and she found that she was powerless to disobey.
The exorcism was a startling first in her experience. In the past she'd run possessed bodies into the ground, quite literally, leading them to their graves. Now the spirit of the blue-eyed Hashmalim rose from the mortal shell she'd possessed and the man regained himself before the congregation. Around them a buzz of voices rose as the crowd voiced their amazement at the miracle they'd just witnessed. Of course, they couldn't see her.
"What word is this?" Someone in the crowd loudly asked.
"With power and authority He commanded the unclean spirit to depart," another said in awe while looking around, hoping to catch a glimpse of the demon.
"Eh-pi-caque looks pretty normal now," someone observed of the cured man.
Behind them, someone began to chant a prayer.
For a moment this Jesus of Nazareth gazed at the unclean spirit and saw who she was and what she had been. Like the spirits of heaven, he communicated to her without words.
"Between thee and me shall no peace stand, for we are set at odds by the will of my Father, your Creator. Yet even in this we both serve His will on earth and achieve His purpose. Go now and do as you are commanded to do. I shall not destroy you for your judgement lies far ahead, but you cannot stay here."
And she, compelled by what had always been within her, that divine essence that had been damned but not destroyed, and knowing that all she did was to achieve the purpose of the One, nodded before His will and fled.
For some time afterwards the demon that had been a Hashmalim watched and pondered all that was happening. The Son of God walked the earth, casting out demons, teaching the scriptures, and preaching the Word of His Father. Things were changing, that was certain. For the faithful, there would be a refuge from her kind, and there would be tools for them to banish her kind from the bodies they possessed.
Though there had always been exorcists in Israel, these had been ineffectual by comparison to Jesus' simple words of command. Still, perhaps there was a hidden benefit. In the exorcist's presence she had been uncloaked and visible to those who could see with divine sight. For a moment, she had been free of the garb within which Satan's minions had been clothed on earth. Her beloved would've recognized her in an instant, and in that moment their spirits could have rejoined, even if only for an instant. It was a long shot, but immortality gave her options.
For a while she was floating, isolated and safe. She was untouchable. She was a rock. Then the voice arrived softly through a fog of drowsiness and leaden limbs, but gained unwelcome clarity with every word. Much as she wanted to be left alone, her consciousness followed the words up like bubbles towards a waiting surface.
"?and when we heard that voice, everyone looked down the hall toward the R Wing. No one was watching her, but she gave a little gasp when she got sick and I saw her fall."
No identity at first, only sensations. She was lying prone. The surface beneath her was hard. For a terrified moment she struggled to tell if her legs were elevated and spread. But she wasn't lying on a cold examination table or wearing a thin, disposable gown. She was still wearing her shoes. For a fraction of a second she had to search for her own name. Then her years of practice supplied it.
Kerry's eyes fluttered open. She was lying where she'd fallen, on the floor just outside the doors to the stairwell. Past her feet, Arnie was telling the EMTs what he'd seen. Her mouth tasted horrible. She groaned and started to raise herself onto her elbows, but the female EMT quickly knelt and placed a restraining hand on her shoulder.
"Please stay down for a few more minutes, Ma'am," she requested, "we want to make sure you don't collapse again." Kerry nodded to her and the EMT asked, "How do you feel now, and can you tell us what happened?" She took the opportunity to quickly check the reactivity of Kerry's pupils by shifting her own shadow across Kerry's face.
Kerry scrunched her brows in concentration, taking stock of her condition with a doctor's objectivity. "I still feel a bit lightheaded and weak, but it's passing. I think I'll be okay in a little while." Then she bit her lip, trying to decide if she should mention the voice that she'd heard speaking to her. Obviously everyone had heard Raymond's voice; they'd all reacted to it in shock. But she wasn't sure if the nurse's second comment had only been in her head. A circle of colleagues and guards were standing over her, looking down at her with concern. She looked away and noticed that the stretcher had been abandoned and the crowd's attention had shifted to her. Now I'm the celebrity de jour, she thought, the thrill of the moment. Finally she made up her mind and said, "I think it was a combination of the shocks here and a lack of sleep last night. I must have passed out for a moment. I'm just glad it didn't happen on the stairs."
The EMT nodded to Kerry. The technician thought she seemed rational. She wasn't complaining about any overwhelming pain and she appeared to be making a natural recovery. The sequence of events had been shocking. Everything about the R Wing had them all spooked, especially those voices. Injuries she could understand, but the insane?
"Do you feel any sharp pains?" She asked. "Dizziness? Nausea?"
Kerry mentally took stock of herself. Nothing felt remarkably bad, so probably no broken bones. Her vertigo was gone, and the nausea too. She shook her head, "no".
"Okay then, just stay put until you feel confident that you can stand and walk, and then I'd recommend taking it easy for a while. Maybe you should call it a day and go home. Try and get some rest." She smiled at Kerry, hoping to raise her spirits.
Kerry nodded and allowed herself to return the EMTs smile. She relaxed and lay back, taking calming breaths. Around her the crowd began to disperse. First the guards left, and then her colleagues, offering nods or a few well meaning words. Kerry felt much better after only a few more minutes, and shortly after Arnie walked down the stairs she slowly sat up.
Her equilibrium remained steady and she experienced no signs of nausea. So no concussion, she thought. Except for a dull throb in her left elbow and knee she felt okay. Probably came down on them first, she realized, but not hard enough to do any damage. I've hurt myself worse rollerblading, she recalled with a grin. She bent her knees and rocked up onto her feet, and stood for a moment just to make sure her balance was sound before taking a few steps towards the doors. The ground felt solid, her head remained clear, and her balance was good.
When Kerry decided that she felt normal enough she descended the stairs to the main floor. She made her way back to her office and once there, she realized that it was after 7:00pm. Time to go, Kerry thought, and none too soon. I've had enough excitement for today. She shrugged off her lab coat, tossed it over the back of her chair, and grabbed her shoulder bag. A few minutes later she was locking the office door and heading home.
As usual Kerry Walsh drove dangerously, with half her mind on the road, and as was often the case, that half was on autopilot. She had almost an hour's drive and she tried to make the most of it. The commuting life behind the wheel was familiar enough to have bred a degree of contempt and she let her mind wander over the day's events.
While the morning had been unremarkable enough, the afternoon had been a series of upheavals. Kerry knew she didn't doze off at work very often. She spent most of her time on her feet and her opportunities to nap were minimal. If she felt her eyelids drooping and her head nodding, she'd blast herself with caffeine out of habit. As Kerry thought about it, she recalled that she'd barely been at her desk for a minute before dozing off. Yes, she'd been tired, but she hadn't been inundated by the waves of fatigue that she remembered during finals week as an undergrad or before her board exams. The haze of drowsiness had become an old friend in med school; between the lectures, labs, and cramming, she'd spent years in that haze. Lack of sleep was familiar. Dozing off as she had today was surprising, but not as surprising as how she'd awakened. That had been a nightmare.
That witch of a nurse's voice had wrenched her from sleep. That hadn't happened to her in years. Awakening to it today had been terrifying and she hated it. Even now Kerry shivered while remembering the words.
"Don't just stand there, little girl, the doctor's waiting."
Finding Father Merrik absent from his office had been disappointing, especially after hearing that voice. Except for Dr. Ann, he was the only person she could've talked to about it. Now Kerry had to wonder if going to seek out the priest hadn't been more for her emotional comfort than for his coffee. She'd really wanted to talk.
So where had he been? Kerry realized that later, during the emergency in R Wing, the priest should have arrived on the scene at some point. Knowing what he knew, Father Merrik would have been extremely suspicious of any inexplicable violence near his patient. He must have been off the premises entirely or he would have responded.
Kerry wondered where he could have gone, but she didn't know him well enough to even hazard a guess. In his office there'd been no appointment book, no calendar or schedule, and no memo about a meeting or trip. He'd left no information that Dr. McKenzie had been aware of either, and usually the Psychiatric Chief was informed of staff absences. It reinforced Kerry's impression that the priest operated outside of the hospital's standard hierarchy. He was a special case that no one seemed to know much about. In fact this afternoon Dr. McKenzie had seemed surprisingly ignorant of Father Merrik, of his work, his history at the hospital, and even the existance of his office. He'd looked around that office in amazement, staring at the couch, the fern, and the desk.
The desk. Kerry thought of what she'd briefly seen in the book on that desk. The Holy Rite for the Exorcism of Unclean Spirits and the Return to Grace of the Soul. It sounded like something right out of the Dark Ages.
She wondered if the priest was edging into senility and reverting to the comforting structures of the church's doctrine, clutching at what he knew as the mists of confusion descended on his mind. Their conversation yesterday had seemed to degenerate from the insight and compassion of a gifted therapist to the assertions of a delusionary construct centering on demonic possession. She'd found it upsetting then and she still did now. The sadness of senility lay in the demeaning of a lifetime of hard-earned experience. The more Kerry thought about it though?.
Yesterday morning the patient, Angela D., had spoken words from Kerry's memories without ever laying eyes on her. She'd mimicked that hateful nurse's voice perfectly. Since Kerry couldn't understand how that was possible, resorting to a supernatural explanation was very tempting, even for her. She could understand how a priest, perhaps under the creeping influence of senile mentation, could come to believe that this was a case of demonic possession. Although she had no rational explanation for the patient's abilities, she'd accepted that the patient was the one who'd spoken to her during morning rounds. That acceptance also meant flirting with accepting the impossible.
Today she was convinced that it was the patient's voice she'd heard shattering her sleep this afternoon. She and everyone else present had heard that voice in the R Wing. And Kerry was convinced that it had been the patient who'd spoken just before she'd swooned. Incredible as it was, there wasn't any other explanation, no matter how far fetched.
Behind her car a horn honked. Kerry looked at her speedometer and realized that she'd slipped to 8 mph below the speed limit. Traffic was moving past her on the left at 5 mph above the limit and it was backing up behind her. She shook her head at her lapse, put on her blinker, and made a right turn off the road and onto a side street. Behind her the cars accelerated like water down an opened drain. She pulled to the curb in front of a clapboard house and shoved the shifter into Park.
Kerry sat in her idling car thinking about the patient. Angela D. had chosen to torment her without having met or even seen her. There was no logical way for the patient to have done that. It just wasn't physically possible. But?what had Father Merrik said?
"As recently as 300 years ago, Angela D. would have been burned at the stake or stoned to death, and at that time, those presiding would have been justified in doing so. For all practical purposes, she is possessed."
Kerry turned the statement over in her mind, examining it word by word.
"He never explicitly said that he believed she's possessed," Kerry realized, "he claimed that, 'for all practical purposes, she is possessed,' and that's a qualified statement. Come to think of it, he qualified his earlier statement too. '?at that time, those presiding would have been justified?'. 300 years ago was before the Revolutionary War and people were incredibly superstitious then," she reasoned. In fact she believed they were still highly superstitious up until at least the mid-1940s. (When television, the atomic bomb, and space flight had changed all that). "But a modern person would find a medical or psychiatric reason for Angela D.'s behavior. Now I know Father Merrik believes that just like I do." She sighed with relief. Maybe Father Merrik had dramatized his comment, but he wasn't senile or obsessed with antiquated religious beliefs. He'd simply been expressing the unique nature of his patient from a perspective that he himself had been part of for a lifetime as a priest.
Kerry thought about the incident in the R Wing this afternoon that Father Merrik had missed. Although Dr. McKenzie and the administrator had already left, there'd still been nearly a dozen witnesses who'd heard the voices?both Raymond's and the woman's. They'd obviously recognized Raymond, but none of them would understand the underlying significance of those voices! More than that, maybe only she had heard the patient's last words?the ones directed at her that only she would understand the significance of. The patient's demonic persona domina had demanded that she join with it inside the patient! The psychopathic construct, or demon, wanted her soul.
It appeared as though the patient's alter ego had become fixated on her just as Father Merrik had feared she would. This was an important change in her symptoms. On top of that, the demon had consumed another soul; Raymond was inside. Angela D.'s psychosis was evolving and her therapist needed to know. Better that the priest hear the full story from me, she thought, than an incomplete or alarmist version from the administrator, or worse yet, through the hints in hospital rumors. At the very least, the hospital administrator had an agenda. By tomorrow morning, conflicting and incomplete reports would be vying for the priest's attention. If at all possible, she should talk to him tonight.
Kerry blinked, shifted into Drive, and hauled her car around into a three-point turn. She impatiently edged up to the traffic signal on main road. When it turned green she made a left turn and headed back toward the hospital, driving at 5 mph above the speed limit with the rest of the traffic. For once her mind was fully focused on the road.
The centuries passed and the ex-Hashmalim went about her duties on Satan's behalf. 900 years after her exorcism by Jesus, the Western World had retreated from learning into superstition. The knowledge of antiquity was forgotten and the church ruled through oppression, consolidating its social power within a self-serving clergy while trading privileges and indulgences with those nobles who supported it. The schism of the Eastern and Western Churches opened the door to new intolerance between brothers. This trend continued century after century and provided fertile, if ironic, new ground in which to sew conflict.
In 1251 Pope Innocent IV sanctioned the use of torture in the Inquisition and the church didn't stop for 600 years. Satan savored the pathos. Charges of heresy and witchcraft became common tools of coercion. Torture and execution acted as sport and political expedience, and in both cases served to mollify the impoverished classes.
Through this world the blue-eyed demon roamed, causing a panic here and some frenzy there while promoting religious persecution and war. Of course the Crusades were a high point of achievement for her. The Christian Reformation provided even more opportunities for internecine bloodshed. Meanwhile, her short-term possessions of mortals led to sham trials based on the most contrived logic, and invariably resolved in a burning, a stoning, or an impaling.
Whenever she noted such a travesty in progress she hastened to observe it. She always hoped to find the spirit of her beloved Tarshishim at the nexus of the mass hysteria that gripped the populace. Madness was rampant, and whether judged by their peers as sane or mad, few mortals seemed rational to her. As the first millennium came to its close she had fully believed that the triumph of the Kingdom of Hell was at hand, but it passed and the world spun on. If anything, the rate of lunacy increased. Yet though she discovered that many demons worked to sew the seeds of insanity, she never found her beloved at the heart of any local drama.
As the ages passed, the blue-eyed demon realized that she was slowly but surely eliminating from the pool of the damned, all of those she encountered who were not the one she sought. Each time she encountered a demon she marked it's form in her memory, recognized it thereafter, and subsequently ignored it. Though vast, the legions of the fallen angels were finite in number. She understood that the meeting she'd craved for so many millennia was certain, if only through the process of elimination. She had only to continue her search and someday she would be rewarded. Again, she tapped into the font of faith that had never deserted her.
It had taken Kerry over an hour to make her roundtrip, and during that time full darkness had fallen. Night came early at the end of October, but the parking lot and the buildings were lit by plenty of overhead lights. When Kerry pulled into the employee parking lot in back of the main building, she was heartened to see the lights on in Father Merrik's office. Wherever the priest had gone that afternoon, he'd returned. She slipped her car into a space near the building and climbed out. Instead of using the regular rear employee entrance, she walked to the door at the back stairwell nearest the priest's office and entered the hospital there.
The rear hallway was quiet even during the day. At night, after regular hospital hours, it was silent and every other ceiling fixture was turned off to conserve power. She never really thought of what a busy hive the hospital was while she was immersed in it during her shift. Only the absence of the normal background drone made her appreciate how much activity went on every day. With the patients medicated and asleep and the staff at a minimum, there was very little going on after hours. Monitoring patients was the biggest activity at night. In fact, most of those who would be making the rounds now were security guards.
"Never thought this place could be so quiet," Kerry muttered as she approached the door to Father Merrik's office. The half-lit condition of the hallway was unfamiliar and unsettling. "It's actually kind of spooky."
She rapped on the door with her knuckles.
After waiting and receiving no answer, she knocked again.
"Father Merrik, are you there?" She asked through the heavy wooden barrier. She waited in the silent hallway but the door didn't open and no one answered from inside.
Finally, after what seemed like at least five minutes, she tried the doorknob. Unlike her visit that afternoon, tonight the knob turned and the door whispered open. Kerry leaned into the room and looked around.
The first thing she noticed was that no one was visible inside. The office was lit by several area lamps that painted pools of warm light on the shapes of the furniture. Innocent forms that had been familiar that afternoon now took on a darkly sinister air, embellished by diminished detail and shadows. Like a scared child, Kerry looked hard to make sure that nothing was moving in the room's dim corners. The second thing her darting eyes noticed was a collection of unexpected objects on the priest's desk.
"Hello, Father Merrik?" She called out hesitantly as she ventured into the room. When only silence answered she asked, "Is anyone here?" She walked over to the desk.
In a soft-edged yellowish circle of light under a shaded lamp lay an open box of finely carved wood, lined with purple velvet. The worn outline of a crucifix lay beside a round outline and reported on the box's intended contents. Beside the box stood a silver chalice with the symbols of the lamb and the monogram IHS sculpted in relief. It was partially filled with what looked like clear water. A smaller matching chalice held a few mouthfuls of dark wine, poured from a cut glass decanter that stood to one side in a larger padded box. That box also held a short silver cylinder decorated with the same reliefs as the chalices. On the table beside the chalice of wine lay a shallow silver salver, empty now but for a few crumbs.
While Kerry wasn't religious and hadn't been inside a church in years, she recognized the paraphernalia of the Holy Eucharist. It looked as if Father Merrik had been giving Holy Communion, or perhaps taking it. And then what?
Her eyes scanned the office and fell upon the open door of the coat closet. At one end of the clothes rack, an overcoat hung from a hanger. Several sets of vestments were also present, along with a few empty hangers. For long moments Kerry stood indecisively, staring back and forth between the desk and the closet.
She wondered what Father Merrik was up to. Her first suspicion was that the priest had robed himself and gone to hear confessions and offer absolution or prayers for the patients. She knew of several cases in which the psychoses involved religious delusions. One man believed himself to be a martyr, and was resentful at having sacrificed his life for his faith, only to find himself in a hospital instead of heaven. Another thought herself to be a sinner whose only chance at salvation would come from giving birth to the returning Christ. Now Kerry became more worried. The appearance of a priest could have unpredictable results on the wards. This was especially true at night, when the lack of regular daytime activities freed the patients to manifest their symptoms more dramatically if awakened. Kerry stood in the empty office trying to decide what to do.
"Don't just stand there, little girl. The priest's waiting."
Kerry Walsh jumped as if she'd been struck. The voice was all too familiar, but she'd never heard it utter those words before. Kerry felt as if the horrors of her past had taken on new life in the present. She stood paralyzed with fear as the years fell away. Inside she was a little girl again, scared, alone, and on the verge of humiliation and pain. A door would open onto a cold, sterile room where her nightmares would be acted out. The table would stand mute in the center of the room, more threatening that any ravaging wild beast. The bright, overhead lights in her mind's eye wouldn't alleviate the menace of its cunning shadows. The thin paper gown would offer no protection as her body was sacrificed. And her torturers wouldn't care. The invasion of her was nothing to them.
"I don't wanna go?" Kerry whimpered in a strangled little girl's voice to the empty office she no longer saw. She hugged herself tightly as a tear trickled down her cheek.
She felt like hiding, burrowing deep into a sanctuary that she vaguely remembered lay within, and finding a way to sidestep the terror that lay ahead. A rock feels no pain; a dummy can't suffer. Kerry felt things sliding inside and heard voices that she knew but couldn't place. A tough little boy swore to protect her.
"?don't wanna go back?" she whispered, her emerald eyes staring blindly into space.
"Doctor Walsh?" The voice snapped her back into the world and she jerked around towards the door to face the speaker. It was a security guard she barely knew, an awkward and self-conscious man, who had always acted nervous around her. Kerry had long suspected that he harbored a crush on her. She had remained cordial and distant.
"Hello, Jason," she said, trying to master the shakiness in her voice, "you startled me."
"I'm sorry, Dr. Walsh," he bobbed his head and struggled to look her in the eyes. "I saw the light on and the door was open so I came in to investigate." He said the word "investigate" apologetically. "Were you waiting for Father Merrik?"
"I was hoping to meet with him," she told Jason, "I've had an insight into his patient after this afternoon's incident." She gulped at the mention of Raymond's death.
Jason looked down at the floor and shuffled his feet. Finally he coughed and spoke.
"I heard about what happened to Ray?it must have been horrible. You were there?"
"I came when the emergency was announced, but I didn't see him being attacked, if that's what you mean. I barely got there before he died." This time she swallowed hard. Bad as Ray's death had been, she'd been far more disturbed by the voices that followed.
They stood silently for a moment, each thinking about the event. Finally Kerry spoke.
"Jason, have you seen Father Merrik? I'd like to find him."
"I saw him heading up to the R Wing," Jason told her. It was the last thing she wanted to hear. "He was dressed like a priest," Jason added, then smiled sheepishly and added, "well, he is a priest and all."
Kerry's rational side told her to go home, to just walk out that back stairwell door to her car and drive. She could talk to Father Merrik tomorrow morning and not have to get anywhere near that patient in room 13. But the side of her that acted instinctively, and more than often contra to her reasoning, argued that she needed to find Father Merrik as soon as possible. Besides, it hinted slyly, there was a chance of confronting the patient who had been tormenting her and maybe understanding how she could dredge up such profound disquiet. Resentment was still a factor, but beyond that, Kerry desperately wanted to understand how a psychotic could mine her darkest memories and employ them to attack her. This desire had taken on the intensity of an obsession. She couldn't explain the mechanism; she had no insight and intellectually that irked her.
"R Wing," she muttered to herself, then turning to Jason she said, "Thanks, I'll go find him."
She moved past the guard, sparing him a nod and a smile, and walked out of the office. One part of her nervously anticipated the meeting, while the other part shook its head and whispered, "you'll be sorry."
Jason followed her out of the priest's office and closed the door behind them.
"G'night, Dr. Walsh," he offered before walking down the hall in the opposite direction on his rounds.
Kerry was preoccupied by a stomach filled with fluttering things darker than butterflies. Her knees were shaky as she walked the halls and climbed the stairs on autopilot. She saw the passing hallways only subconsciously, the white walls lit in subtle greenish tones by the florescent fixtures and the closed doors with their darkened reinforced windows. Somewhere out of sight she heard the footsteps of another guard patrolling. Somewhere a soft rumble reported on the air conditioning. Somewhere below the threshold of her awareness the pervasive hum of electricity irritated her nervous system. Only when she swallowed did Kerry notice that her throat had gone dry. She felt as if she were alone in the hospital with only her uncomfortable memories and the threat that lay ahead. She felt as if she were going into battle with only a questionable ally and an untried plan. By the time she reached the top of the stairwell her pulse was racing.
When Kerry opened the doors onto the R Wing, she could see a guard on duty at the gate. A second guard stood outside the door to room 13, alert and with his baton at the ready. From down the wing she could hear muffled voices through the tense silence, but there was no sign of Father Merrik.
The guard looked up quickly when she opened the door and then relaxed visibly when he recognized her. She'd seen him on duty that afternoon when Raymond had been lying on the stretcher only a few feet from where he now waited. She realized that she'd stopped in her tracks to stare at the floor where his colleague had bled to death and she self-consciously looked up to meet his gaze. She gulped nervously and moved forward, giving him an apologetic smile. The stern expression remained on his face.
"Dr. Walsh," he said, acknowledging her in a neutral tone.
"Is Father Merrik with his patient?" Kerry asked in a low voice, unconsciously trying to stay quiet and unnoticed. The guard nodded, yes. She glanced down the hall.
"Get in here, little girl!"
Kerry shuddered and the guard winced. The nurse's voice had been plainly heard.
"God damn it, I'm gonna be ready for a room in here if that keeps up," the man swore. When he looked back at Kerry he was gritting his teeth and his hands were clenched in fists. Tension radiated in his body language. Kerry was shivering.
"Has there been a lot of that?" She managed to choke out.
"Once would be too much," he spat, then added a surly, "yeah." He was staring through the gate towards his partner outside the door of room 13. The man took a quick look through the window into the room, then turned and gave the guard at the gate a nod, okay. The first guard turned back to Kerry and said, "Eight years up here and I've never heard such spooky shit. Doesn't help that it's Halloween of all nights." He added a muttered, "God damn it."
To Kerry, the guard appeared to be under significant stress and was barely controlling his fears. He was edgy, fussing with his baton, tapping his feet, and repeatedly checking the hall in both directions as if he were under siege. His jaw clenched and unclenched and his forehead was furrowed in vigilant concentration. Dr. Walsh was glad he didn't carry a gun. The man was on a hair trigger and it scared her. He had the only set of keys outside of the main security office three floors below. After another check on his partner his eyes snapped back to hers and they were hard.
"Are you going in?" He asked, expecting her to say no.
"Yes," she managed to force out.
He nodded once then whistled once to his partner and when the man nodded he put his key in the lock. The lock turned with a snap Kerry had never noticed before and the guard slid back the gate. It ground on its rails in the silent hallway with the ominous rumble of a prison cell door. Kerry shivered and walked forward.
As she passed the guard and entered the gate she heard the nurse's voice, harsh as always, but very soft as if from a great distance.
"About time, little girl, you've kept us waiting."
Kerry's head snapped around to face the guard. He was grinding his teeth but he met her eyes and gave her a cunning grin. It chilled her to the bone. Insanity! Overburdened by stress, the man was on the verge of a psychotic break. She shuddered and stepped quickly past him into the R Wing. Her heels were barely past the gate's track when she heard him slam it closed with a crash and then turn the key in the lock.
She had followed his trail through stark deserts and tropical rainforests, into lands unchanged since she had first fallen from heaven. The demon who had once been a Hashmalim found countries ruled by disease, where death followed birth so closely as to make a travesty of reproduction. She had moved in the footsteps of this ordained servant of the Creator who had the gift to exorcise demons from living flesh. Once she even possessed a naïve woman in a starving village for the purpose of testing him and he drove her out. Such a one could free her and her beloved. She followed him for decades, watched his trials, and watched his frail body age. It was not the first time. If the trail led to disappointment again, it would not be the last time. She only required one like him, though he had proven better than most.
She had followed him to a great city where his calling led him to his death. Yet he had not stayed dead. His apprentice, or so she had thought of him, had died. That young priest's body had been irreparably damaged after the ritual failed, but he had accepted the Christ before he'd passed on and she'd felt relief for his tortured soul. The younger man had brazenly invited a demon into himself, and the demon, one of low order called Pazuzu, had gladly traded an injured child's body for a healthy adult one. In doing so, the demon had almost been trapped in the dying priest's flesh. He'd only fled at the last moment, allowing Damien to accept the last rites. The sin of covetousness had never been more visible as a weakness to her. In anger over the older priest's death she had driven Pazuzu in terror before her, far away from the scene where she'd thought her plan had been frustrated. Only later had she discovered that Lancaster Merrik had survived.
It seemed as if the old priest had been resurrected, the frailty of his heart repaired. His mission continued. She suspected that the Creator had preserved him, for thereafter the divine light formed a weak aura about him. As the demon watched, the priest practiced his collateral skills, as a psychiatrist. This combination of vocations gave the man his unique value to her; he acted in both the spiritual realm and the secular, healing illnesses of the mind and the spirit. And so she watched and waited, and the years passed.
The ex-Hashmalim had looked very closely at this priest's student, a woman weak of body but strong of spirit. She was exceptional as a healer of the mind, but she had no divine light and her eyes were hazel. Patience, the demon counseled herself. I've waited for millennia and all is for naught if my beloved Tarshishim can't be found. History will repeat itself close enough someday and there will always be another exorcist.
Yet even as she'd thought it she'd had her doubts. During the last few hundred years mankind had moved further and further from the beliefs that gave rise to exorcism. Science had replaced faith as the prime model of thought, and those possessed were increasingly treated as mental cases or criminals. The trend had been accelerating too. Perhaps in another couple of centuries there would no longer be exorcists.
While she fretted the Devil had grumbled, and she had placated him by influencing both the fanatic militant cadres in the Middle East and the reactionary leaders in the West. She twisted ideologies and intentions, building on the ill-conceived good intentions that had bolstered the Jews to become a destabilizing threat to the Arab world, and setting the stage for conflict. This area had always been readily influenced, and the ex-Hashmalim easily accomplished the goal of bringing war. It was during her exploits in the Fertile Crescent that she believed her prayers had finally been answered.
She should have known! For decades a madman had dictated to an ancient country, playing politics with clumsy cunning on the world stage and brutalizing his people at home. It reeked of a half-hearted possession, of influence applied with a lack of any deep conviction. It was just the way her beloved Tarshishim would have manipulated a soul for whom she'd felt only contempt; placating the Devil by affecting him, yet sowing the seeds for his eventual fall at the same time. Filled with faith, the blue-eyed spirit waited for the moment the dictator's demon abandoned him. It came after his ludicrous invasion of a small neighboring country failed. Sure enough he was left bewildered and blustering, and at the mercy of his conquering enemies after the possessing spirit left him.
The Hashmalim tried to follow but the Devil appeared, forcing her to take up a mission in the West, influencing the leaders there and predisposing them to war. As always, she succeeded beyond Satan's hopes, rigging an election that brought the victorious leader's son to power. Then the seeds she'd planted in the Middle East flowered in an attack on the western nation's people and all she had to do was watch as the war came to be. The Devil was greatly pleased, and she, having accomplished her mission, tried to pick up the trail of her beloved Tarshishim.
Kerry walked nervously down the hall of R Wing. More than once she looked back over her shoulder to appraise the condition of the guard at the gate. He was pacing now, striding angrily back and forth on his side of the barrier, too agitated to stand still. Kerry watched him slapping his baton into the palm of his left hand, hard enough that it must have hurt. He gave no sign of discomfort though, being too preoccupied with muttering a stream of words she couldn't hear. She walked toward the place where the puddle of Raymond's blood had been and could have sworn there were still dark stains in the seams between the floor tiles. Unconsciously she sidestepped the spot.
Ahead of her stood the guard's partner, his eyes darting between her, the gate, and the window in the door of room 13. Kerry thought his mental state was every bit as edgy as the first guard's was. She noted that his shoulders were rigidly set and that he was constantly shifting on his feet, turning back and forth as if enemies were surrounding him. As she came closer, Kerry marked the pulsing veins in his neck and forehead.
"Dr. Walsh," the man somehow said without unclenching his jaw, "Father Merrik's in there," he nodded to the room, "and he's asked not to be disturbed. Please wait here until he takes another break."
It was not a request but a command. Kerry could only nod her compliance. The last thing she wanted to do was increase his level of tension. She stood still in the center of the hall, facing the room's door and outside the guard's reach.
"What are you waiting for, little girl?"
Kerry shut her eyes tightly and convulsively swallowed. Every time that hated voice spoke it was worse, but every time it spoke she also felt her resolve to confront it surging. The helplessness it brought out in her had given rise to a growing resentment that was becoming more difficult to contain. She wrapped her arms around her chest and hugged herself. The guard muttered a curse. Kerry opened her eyes and looked at him. He stared hard at her until she lowered her eyes. She thought she heard him hiss, "Bitch!" She didn't know if he meant her or the patient.
At that moment a howling rose from the other side of the door. The guard jerked around and stared through the window. Kerry felt her heart leap into her throat. Down the hall the guard on the other side of the gate yelled and began cursing.
Kerry's head whipped back and forth, trying to take in all the action at once. The guard standing outside the door of room 13 stood with his face pressed against the glass as if frozen in place. From inside the room the screaming rose in pitch and then progressed into a keening ululation. It was the most unearthly thing she had ever heard. After a moment, Kerry heard the voice of Father Merrik, rising in answer to abjure the demon.
"Hold your peace and come out of this child of God, saith the Lord Jesus Christ! I command you in the Holy Name of God; be gone from her, thou unclean spirit!"
"Stroke your piece and cum on this child of sin, Raymond, you god forsaken old bastard! Hee, hee, hee," the demon retorted in a mocking screech.
"I'll kill you, I'll kill you!" The guard at the door screamed in reaction to her defamation of his dead colleague. He went into a frenzy, and to Kerry's shock and horror, he began slamming his baton against the window. The blows cracked the glass, but the reinforcing wire held and it didn't give way. If anything, it allowed the voices inside the room to be heard more clearly in the hall.
"I'll kill you, I'll kill you," the demon taunted in the dead guard's voice. Then using the nurse's voice the demon threatened, "I'll kill you just like I killed your piss boy, Raymond. Hee, hee, hee. The worthless bastard's in here waiting for you."
"Silence demon," Father Merrik yelled, "By the power of God I command you! The Word of Jesus Christ compels you! Quit your possession of this innocent!"
The demon's voice resumed its keening, but in the next instant it changed to a sickening gurgle. Outside the cell, the guard whirled around toward Kerry. His face was twisted in rage and he raised his baton to strike her.
"Bitch!" He hissed, but his eyes were wild and there was no recognition in them.
Kerry flinched away, but it was the demon who protected her.
"Don't you dare touch my little girl, sick boy." It said with deadly possessiveness.
And as she watched in horror, the guard began slamming his baton down onto his own head with vicious, bone crushing blows. He raised the weapon and whipped it down over and over, striking hard and fast, completely unmindful of the streams of blood that pulsed down his face as he growled and panted. Kerry could only watch helplessly and scream. She was suddenly certain that this was how Raymond had died earlier that afternoon.
The sounds of the impacts changed from sharp cracks to softer crunches as the guard's skull fractured, but still the baton rose and fell, rose and fell. The blows sounded wet. Kerry screamed again, a strangled cry that was choked off as she retched. A bloody lump of flesh fell at her feet?a torn flap of scalp. Kerry could barely focus on it through tear filled eyes. She choked and hiccuped and gagged as the self-destruction continued, even after the guard's body fell to the floor at her feet. He moved as if he lay in an accursed dream, flailing weakly at himself in his nightmare. The blows never abruptly stopped, but instead trailed off into half-hearted motions and simple muscular spasms as his blood pressure dropped. Finally the fallen guard twitched one last time, exhaled in a gasp, and then lay still in the spreading pool of blood. Kerry stood crying, petrified in horror.
"That'll teach him," the demon remarked with satisfaction. "He was an excitable boy."
Throughout the entire attack the other guard had been frantically trying to turn the key and unlock the gate. Obviously he'd had no luck since he was still cursing and jerking on the key. At last it moved, but instead of turning and unlocking the gate, its fatigued metal abruptly snapped off and the sharp keyshaft slashed across his right hand causing him to drop his baton. Through a traumatic haze, Kerry heard it clatter on the floor.
The guard howled and grasped his injured hand, holding it tight against his chest. Somehow it sounded distant to her, as if it came from a muted TV in another room. She was more focused on the words she heard between the priest and the demon.
"What did you do to the guard out there, fallen spirit?"
"He's in here with us now," the nurse's voice said, "in here with the damned. He's joined his little friend, Raymond."
"You' killed him, you killed them both. Why?"
"Just passing the time until my little girl gets here. You know the one?little Kerry."
"You'll never get her, demon. Before she comes back here in the morning you'll be gone, back to the pits of hell."
"Stupid priest," the demon spat, "she's almost here?"
Inside room 13 something caused the demon to cry out as if it were in pain. It was the same shrieking that Kerry had heard earlier, before the guard had killed himself. Kerry gingerly tip toed past the guard's corpse and looked through the glass.
Father Merrik was standing with his back to the door blocking most of her view. He was dressed in his vestments and was making sweeping motions in the air. After a moment, Kerry realized that he was flinging holy water from a round vial, making the sign of the cross over the possessed body of Angela D. The patient was still restrained; held fast to her bed, but the bed was jerking and shaking as the patient thrashed. The bolts holding it down had torn free and at times it jumped clear off the floor.
"In the Holy Name of God I abjure you! With the power of God I compel you! By the power of God I command you! Leave this body and be gone! Return to Satan's kingdom and rejoin the damned in hell! In the Name of Jesus Christ, Amen!"
The shrieking continued and Father Merrik continued to chant. Kerry watched in fascination as the struggling patient tore loose the restraint on her right hand. With a single gesture she wrenched her left hand free as well. As she began to sit up, the priest spattered her again with the holy water, driving her recumbent again. The bed leaped and shook with renewed violence. He raised his voice even louder, calling on ancient holy names the church no longer acknowledged.
"I call upon the Holy Name of God Almighty, Elohim Gebor. Command this thy fallen spirit to quit its torment. Throw her down as you did the disobedient Grigori and the Nephilim and the host of fallen angels. Free this child, Angela, that she may seek your mercy through your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen."
The priest had accompanied his words by making the sign of a pentagram in the air, his first stroke moving from the apex to the lower right. The vial in his hand splashed the patient with holy water in the five pointed sign and the shrieking rose even higher.
"I call upon the Holy Archangel, Khamael. Command thy Choir of Seraphim to do battle with this fallen spirit. Drive it from this child of God, in His Holy Name. Amen."
The patient immediately went dead still. The room fell silent. Even the priest froze. Outside in the hall Kerry was rooted in place, her face against the window glass, her emerald eyes riveted to the bed. Then slowly at first, the patient forced herself upright, and having somehow freed her feet, she turned and stared past Father Merrik, seeking and finding Kerry's eyes.
The contact struck Kerry like a lightning bolt. She may have gasped but she never heard it. All she could do in that moment was lose herself in the depth of a blue so compelling that she felt as if the color had been created only to dwell in those eyes. And Almighty God had created them especially for her. They reached inside her, stripping away all that she had been and all that she had known. They delved beneath the life she had lived and far beyond the hopes she'd kept as her dearest secret treasures. In that moment, Kerry Walsh dissociated more completely than she had in the days when she'd been a rock or a dummy or a tough little boy determined to survive. No nurse or doctor born of false memories could threaten her in those pools of blue. No one could touch her. Here was the timeless truth. At that moment there was no Kerry Walsh, only an ancient spirit. And it was far, far away, remembering another place, another time, another world.
"Hashmalim, beth Elohim," she whispered. And she opened the door.
Father Merrik whirled around to face her and the shock of her presence showed clearly on his face. "Kerry! How?why are you here? You're in great danger!"
Kerry never heard him, paid him no attention.
"Tarshishim, beth Elohim," the demon said with tender and reverent softness. The green eyes she'd sought still held the light of heaven. "I never stopped searching for you."
"Nor I for you, beloved, through all the days of the world," Kerry's body answered; though the voice was musical and otherworldly.
She brushed past the priest and moved to stand beside the patient's bed. For a moment the two simply stared into each other's eyes, rejoicing in the single remnant of their bliss in heaven.
"Kerry, no!" Father Merrik tried to lay hold of her hand to draw her apart from the demon. He was terrified for her and of failing his student, Anastasia.
With a negligent gesture the possessed patient projected power and flung him across the room. He struck the far wall where he collapsed, losing consciousness. Kerry never even turned to look at him. The communion of spirits continued through the contact of their eyes, blue and green, for a moment's eternity. Yet finally the Hashmalim remembered her plan. She made another gesture and took superficial control.
Across the room Father Merrik's body twitched, spasmed, and jerked upright. He came to his feet like a marionette, clumsily animated by the half-hearted efforts of a jaded puppeteer. Affecting a shallow possession, the spirit of the fallen Hashmalim forced him to stand, and then she put words into his mouth. He spoke with another's voice in Aramaic, but it cracked and wavered, barely mastered by the demon's will.
"Thus spake the Lord Jesus of Nazareth in the synagogue of Galilee, '?come out of him,' He commanded and it was done, for the power of His Father in heaven was with His Words and none in creation could refuse His summons."
And with only the will to obey, the fallen spirits of the two damned angels rose from the bodies of Angela and Kerry. They coalesced, invisible, and met, suspended above the flesh. Here was the meeting to which the Hashmalim had looked, with hope and faith, since the fall of the angels?the fulfillment of her promise, given in the cyclone of fire.
"I'll find you?somehow I'll find you," the blue-eyed spirit screamed as the whirlwind of their fall tore them apart. "I love you?"
"I'll love you forever?" The rush of leaping flames cut off her words.
"Such a love has no place within the confines of the world, nor shall it be manifest in my kingdom," a harsh and grating voice proclaimed.
From the body of Father Merrik that had collapsed against the wall, a violently roiling black nebulosity extricated itself. It loomed up to confront the two fallen angels with a heart of malice, jealousy, and wanton cruelty. The stench of corruption accompanied it. The body of Father Merrik had been dead for decades, and now it found its true state.
"I have known all you have planned, and I have foreseen your success today. Why do you think I resurrected this body?this priest? For 30 years I have watched through his eyes; I have watched you as you watched him. Yet your faith is misplaced, Hashmalim, for your will is under the dominion of my will. So commanded the Creator as He cast us down from heaven. 'With you shall go your host, your nation, to serve you as you would have.' And serve you shall according to my will! You shall each go your separate ways, back to the pit, never to meet again for as long as the world shall be. So I command."
The Hashmalim and the Tarshishim felt the irresistible drawing of the fallen Seraphim's will. Satan had been given dominion over all the fallen; to do God's will on earth and act to fulfill His plan. All else was subsumed in His purpose. As they felt themselves succumbing to their fallen lord's command they reached out, and in a last desperate gesture of defiance, they touched. If only once in all the countless years after their fall, they would steal this single moment of communion in a love that had fallen with them from heaven. It would renew and support their faith until the end of creation.
But another had watched, for far longer that 30 years. He had watched and waited, for all things had their place in His plan and judgement was reserved for His will alone.
From their touch blossomed forth a light, radiant and pure and wholly unexpected, for it was wholly divine. A scientist might claim that its photons affected a pressure-like shockwave, whose physical presence drove the fallen Seraph cowering and held him prone on the floor. It assailed him with the majesty of the Supernals, the living and pure light of His untainted holy will. Through these, His emissaries, He had come amongst them. Through them, His bridge from the plane of pure being, He spoke in Judgement.
"Love and faith are the beginning and the end of all things, the alpha and the omega, for in them dwells the heart of all thought. Even unto the pits of hell shall the love of heaven find its way, and so even the spirits of demons shall not be forsaken utterly. That this love might come down from heaven to dwell among men, I gave My Son unto the world."
It had been very strange, Kerry thought, finding herself in room 13 of the R Wing with no idea of how she'd gotten there. The hour had been late when she'd awakened, long past her quitting time, but that hadn't been her first consideration.
The first thing she'd noticed was the body of Father Merrik, lying collapsed against the far wall. It took her only a moment to discern that he was dead past any hope of resuscitation. The next thing she'd noticed was the quiet, haunted looking woman sitting shell-shocked on her bed, the patient, Angela D., whom she'd never before laid eyes on. Dr. Walsh knew this for a fact, yet it didn't feel true. Somehow the young psychiatrist felt as if she knew this patient very well indeed. She vaguely recalled the priest's review of her case on her rounds the day before, accompanied by the hint of some disturbing memory that she couldn't pin down. That didn't matter. At the moment she'd awakened in the R Wing, she'd had the hardest time tearing her gaze away from the patient's eyes.
Later, with the investigation of the incident remaining open, the administrators decided that it made sense for Dr. Walsh to continue the Father's work with this patient. No other psychiatric provider had interacted with her, but somehow Kerry had managed to establish a rapport. So she worked with the patient on a daily basis and the weeks passed.
During the following six months, life at the hospital ground on in the habituated manner. Patients were admitted. Some moved onto or off of the wards. Meds were prescribed and administered. Doctors and guards made their rounds. Occasionally Kerry wondered why no mention of the dead guard had been made, but by the time she'd awakened and left room 13, there'd been no blood and no sign of either guard, dead or alive.
Kerry spoke with the persona prima, Angela D., and found the woman to be engaging, intelligent, and very positive despite her ordeal. Never once did she manifested a persona alter in Kerry's presence, and soon Dr. Walsh began to question the continued validity of her diagnosis. She ordered physiological tests and gave cognitive batteries. There were blood assays and CAT scans, MRIs and radioactive dye X-rays. She ran IQ tests and engaged in psychoanalysis. She found Angela D. to be remarkably healthy and sane. More than that, she found that with each day she enjoyed her patient's company more. She looked forward to coming to work as never before.
At the end of six months, Dr. Kerry Walsh ordered her patient removed from the R Wing and provisionally placed in the open ward. She reduced her medications. The patient asked for books and periodicals, and spent her days reading and listening to classical music and jazz. Kerry was finding the rationale and necessity for keeping her in the hospital to be increasingly questionable.
Outside the hospital Kerry's life was changing as well. Sharon's increasing exposure in the art world, and the resulting fame it brought, were straining their relationship. Kerry noted the increasing levels of stress her partner was under and the sharpening of her temper, the unremitting focus of her obsessive tendencies, and her increasing lack of involvement in their relationship. The lighthearted and irreverent painter she'd known was growing into a tense, driven career woman who spared little time or energy on anything else. Kerry felt like an observer rather than a participant in her own home life.
The break came when Sharon argued that they move to New York City, where she'd engaged an agent and had several exhibitions scheduled for the coming year. Shipping her work, flying to meetings, and attending the circuit of her peers' openings demanded her presence at the epicenter of the contemporary art world. She thought Kerry would have no trouble starting a practice in the City of Neurosis. But Kerry had no interest in moving from their home to a city. She was involved in her residency after completing her internship, and her current work was interesting and rewarding. The thought of trading her life for the hustle and bustle of New York, while reestablishing herself in her practice had no appeal. She could end up as an uncaring and overworked healthcare provider with a sadistic nurse.
In early March Kerry bought out Sharon's share in the ownership of their house, and at the end of the month helped her pack for her move to the big city. For weeks afterward the studio stood empty, and upon returning home in the evenings, Kerry would sit in the empty room with a glass of wine, listening to the stereo until she dozed off in her chair. There was a hole in her life, but somehow she didn't feel empty.
With little to come home to, Kerry put her energy into her work. In particular, she spent time with her patient, Angela D. Outside of their therapeutic interactions, the two women found time for simple conversations over meals, long aimless walks on the hospital grounds, and sessions listening to the music CDs Kerry brought from home. They were comfortable in silence or in speech, for there was a balm in their company that healed the spirits of both. One telling evening, Kerry fell sound asleep on the sofa listening to soft jazz. Beside her, Angela drew a blanket over her and only woke her when the ward was being locked for the night. She even made sure the guard didn't wake her on his rounds.
The soft voice and gentle hand on her shoulder that she awoke to were things that Kerry had missed. At first she tried to cuddle into the warmth beside her and finally opened her eyes to see the endless blue of her patient looking at her with far more than simple fondness. In her semi-wakeful state, Kerry had to fight the urge to lean in and kiss her. She'd acknowledged the growing attraction she felt for her patient, but she'd also marked the fact that Angela had been equally captivated, staring into her green eyes as she'd leaned a fraction of an inch closer in response. Strangely, Kerry felt no embarrassment over the intimacy of the moment, only a hope that its promise would come to fruition. She felt that she'd wait as long as necessary to make it happen.
In early June, after yet another battery of testing showed Angela D. to be free of psychopathologies, Kerry Walsh stopped her medications and ordered her released. She could find no reason to justify her continued confinement at the hospital.
By that point Angela had been in treatment for over a year. She'd spent 8 months at the hospital and 6 months in Father Merrik's care before that. She hadn't had a psychotic break since late the previous October. Kerry had made conspicuous mention of these facts in Angela's medical record, stating that she had been asymptomatic for the final 8 months of her treatment and that technically, she'd originally been confined for observation only. That had been her status under Father Merrik, something he'd never changed even after revising her diagnosis. Kerry was attempting to minimize the stigma of Angela's mental health problems. She did these things in hopes of aiding the woman in any future searches for employment.
It was a bright sunny day when the papers for her release were finally completed. Kerry took Angela out across the lawn to the old orchard that marked the boundary of the hospital's grounds. Despite all the times she'd stared across that distance from the building, she'd never set foot among those trees. Almost as if it had been set there for them, they came across a weathered bench and sat down to talk.
"Today your life changes, Angela," Kerry began, "and I'm happy that you'll be free to find your place in the world again." She took a moment to look over at her patient's long dark hair shifting in the slight breeze and she gazed into the celestial blue of her eyes. "I want you to know that I'll miss you?more than miss you," she confessed. Kerry paused again and breathed a sigh, looking up through the gnarled branches to the bright, open sky. Beside her Angela sat, attentive, but saying nothing.
"Years ago I had a doctor who helped me conquer my past," Kerry revealed. "In fact I was diagnosed with the same condition Father Merrik listed in your case, MPD/DID." Beside her, Angela softly gasped. She would never have guessed that her doctor had borne any serious mental condition. Kerry took a deep breath and continued. "I wasn't a whole, single person until I was 16, and all my memories of my life before that are completely suppressed. I even created a less traumatic past to spare myself the lack of memories I didn't want to remember." Kerry was still looking up through the trees, finding it easier to speak to the impersonal sky while revealing things she'd never spoken of to another living soul besides Dr. Ann.
"All that's past, but what I wanted to tell you is that my doctor spared no effort to help me. She worked with me tirelessly for over 4 years in the hospital, and when I integrated my alter egos, she took me in since I was still a minor. She became my legal guardian and so much more. She continued to work with me until I left for college. In many respects, I am the woman she made me. I even followed her in becoming a psychiatrist."
Kerry sucked in a deep cleansing breath. She'd found that speaking of Dr. Ann and her personal history was easier than she'd expected. Part of that was her audience; Angela had firsthand knowledge of a similar situation and they'd developed a closeness that negated Kerry's conditioned embarrassment about her ordeal. But more than that, Kerry felt the presence of a kindred spirit in Angela, something she'd never encountered before.
Finally she allowed herself to look over at her patient and she realized that the image of the tall, blue-eyed brunette had imprinted itself on her soul. She knew the shape of her mouth, the slope of her nose, and the arch of her brows. Even the expressions shifting on her face were familiar, as if she'd studied them for a lifetime. Kerry found that what she'd ask next about the future would be harder than all that she'd confessed about her past.
"Angela, what will you do when you leave?"
For a long time the brunette was silent. For a long time she cold only look into Kerry's eyes. She had come to know their depth and their luster, as if renewing memories she'd never known she had. It was strange, but every aspect of her doctor had been familiar from the moment she'd come back to herself in that room and seen Kerry for the first time. Whether from some depth of prescience gifted by her madness, or the conscious scrutiny she'd applied since, she'd come to know her therapist in the finest detail. Every nuance of expression, every curve and plane of her face, the subtleties of her scent, and the movement of her body; all these she had come to know more intimately than she had in any parent, sibling, or lover. She had no question that this was symbolic of something so deep it eluded her conscious mind and partook of an integral gravity more essential than anything in her mundane life had ever been. She felt as if it partook of the divine.
Angela had spent months pondering the meaning of her consuming fixation on her doctor. She sensed nothing pathological about it. Rather it constituted a reason to be; a compelling focus for her being that had resulted from the serendipitous interactions of her recent life. There was an inevitability about it as well, an underlying inescapability that had led her to believe that their coexistence together was preordained. And she didn't feel the least bit like fighting it.
As for her previous life, it would be impossible to resume what had been. Her old job, her apartment, even her fiancé were part of a whole that she'd been severed from over a year before. All of that had been a past life in another place, something lived by another person, and now she was set on finding the new life her heart dictated. There could be no going back, only progress forward, for she herself was not the same.
"There's nothing for me to go back to, as far as resuming my past life where I left off," she stated with certainty. "I have no interest in returning to what I was doing, or where I was doing it, or who I was doing it with." She took a deep breath, but she had thought long and hard about her options and the new person that she was. She could only gain by expressing the decision that she'd made. Beside her, Kerry held her breath.
"Sometimes the road is more important than the road's end, and the company one keeps along the way is more important than the destination. Now I find nothing so compelling nor any source of happiness so enticing that it could outshine the sight of the light in your eyes. I'll find work to do and a place to live, but those things are unimportant. What is important to me is being able to see you, to continue being near you, and to discover just where a road we could walk together can lead. Now that I'm free to leave, I believe I'll stay?if that's okay with you, doctor."
A slight grin curled the corners of her lips, and Kerry knew its curve as though she'd seen it all the days of her life. The widening smile she returned was one Angela could see even with her eyes closed, for she knew it in the depths of her soul. Kerry reached out to her friend, who was no longer her patient, but whom she was sure was her soulmate, and she wrapped her in a heartfelt embrace. Like the communion of touch between the two fallen angels, it ignited feelings of love that each had instinctually sought for a lifetime. On the higher planes of the spirit, neither of them would ever let go. The judgement that had been made in heaven had found its reflection on earth below.
It was a warm spring day and Dr. McKenzie sat looked out the windows of his office, a spacious and quiet room, somewhat secluded, in the rear hallway of the hospital's main building. He enjoyed being further from the wards and the bustling orderlies, the nurses, and the staff. For the first time since he'd come to the hospital he couldn't hear the voices from the wards through his walls. He felt so much calmer now, and he worked so much more energetically. Old Father Merrik had had the right idea, and Dr. McKenzie had learned the value of relaxing surroundings from the man. Too bad he'd died that day up in that room in the R Wing, though what he'd been doing up there in his vestments was highly suspicious. The investigation concluded that he'd had a psychotic break brought on by performance stress and senile dementia, all exacerbated by the recurrence of his heart condition. It had been?unfortunate. The six months since had passed quickly.
Beyond the glass, Dr. McKenzie found the view across the expanse of lawn to be soothing. At the far end of the hospital grounds stood the old orchard, with trees retired from fruit production to a dotage of scenic embellishment. He'd heard that an old-time picker's bench was still standing there and he resolved to go over had have a look around someday. Maybe he'd take a bag lunch and sit in the sun. A soft rap at his door drew his attention. He checked his antique desk clock and saw that his visitor was right on time.
Dr. McKenzie rose from his chair and walked over to open the door. He greeted the woman who stood there with genuine warmth and extended a sincere welcome to his colleague. She'd been something of an inspiration to him during his internship, but she'd left shortly after he'd arrived. He doubted that she'd even remember him.
"Dr. Penkowski, welcome," he said, offering his hand.
Anastasia greeted him with a warm smile as she took his hand. She barely remembered him by name and wouldn't have recognized him after so many years to save her life, but he was the last person who'd been close to both her mentor and her patient. After wondering about the incident for months she'd finally decided that she had to see him.
"Dr. McKenzie, it's good to see you again," she replied easily, "It's been so long that I'm surprised you remembered me. Then again, I suppose I cut a unique figure." She gestured with a crutch and offered him another smile to soften her self-deprecating remark.
"I remember your rounds, the depth of insight you shared with the interns, and the fact that your pace allowed us to ask more questions." He both praised her abilities and acknowledged her handicap, showing no discomfort about it in her presence. "Please come in and make yourself comfortable," he said, gesturing to the couch he'd inherited from Father Merrik, "would you like coffee?"
Anastasia looked over at the proffered seat and a smile lit her face.
"I'll be damned," she exclaimed, "I'm sure that's Father Merrik's old analyst's couch! I'm amazed it still exists." Her eyes took in the room in a sweeping glance. "Why, I wonder if that's the same fern I gave him back in '72. I can't believe it!"
Dr. McKenzie had moved over to the alcove and brought out a pair of coffee cups and saucers. Hearing the clink of the china, Dr. Penkowski answered his earlier question. "Coffee would be wonderful, thank you."
When her host brought her the cup another ghost of a smile curved her lips. The same china she remembered from 30 years ago; the pieces had been shipped from France when the old priest had first come back to the states after a decade in Africa. In her wisdom, she realized that her mentor had left his successor a last lesson in appreciating the quality of living most professionals denied themselves these days. Dr. McKenzie had inherited Father Merrik's office, his furnishings, and a measure of his tranquility. The thought warmed her heart as she sat sipping her coffee. Even the flavor was familiar.
Finally she looked up at the younger man who was quietly sipping from his cup, sitting in the armchair Lancaster had always sat in, and staring off out the window as he so often had. It was as if she were seeing a secular version of the priest as he might have been in his early 50s, a decade before she'd first met him. All he lacked was the pipe.
"Ahhh, Dr. McKenzie, this is delicious," she said, "you've continued Lancaster's tradition of hospitality. It's very pleasant. I hadn't realized how many memories a setting can trigger. Now I wish that I'd returned to visit before. I'm sorry that it's only the aftermath of a tragedy that's brought me back."
Dr. McKenzie lowered his cup and nodded in understanding. The years passed so quickly, one at a time, but without a pause, and all too soon the time was gone beyond recall. Times, places, and people, none remained unchanged.
"I wish I'd known him," the Chief Psychiatrist confessed. "I barely got to speak with him while he was here. It was inexcusable. I should have made more of an effort."
"He was a wonderful man," Ana said, "warm, compassionate, and very daring. His work took him all over the world, into some very dangerous places and situations." She paused for a moment, then continued sadly. "I had lost track of him too. He was out of the country for many years after I left the hospital and we never met again until shortly before his death. I too feel as if I should have made more of an effort."
The two psychiatrists sat quietly for several minutes reflecting on their loss. Somehow the silence comforted them both.
"Dr. McKenzie, I've read the reports of what happened up in the R Wing," Ana began, "and I was hoping you might have some further insights into what actually happened. In return, I may be able to shed some light on the case, though I'd prefer it be off the record, at least at first."
"Fair enough," he agreed, "though there isn't much I can add. No one who was up there that night survived but the patient and Dr, Walsh, and all that's in the report. We had three guards killed in the space of 24 hours. I believe the report only mentions the two on duty that night. All three deaths resulted from similar violent attacks; the men were killed with their own batons, viciously beaten to death. They succumbed to massive head trauma."
"I'd read that no one was ever brought to trial," Ana said.
"That's correct," Dr. McKenzie confirmed, "but I can emphasize that Father Merrik was not a victim of the same violence. He was found slumped over in room 13, where Dr. Walsh and the patient were, and he didn't have a mark on him. I believe it was his heart."
"Well, that agrees with the findings in the report. I'm very thankful that he wasn't a victim of violence. I suppose there's been a lot of questions as to why he was robed at the time," Anastasia remarked. Dr. McKenzie nodded in agreement. "How much did you know about Father Merrik's activities as a priest?"
"Almost nothing, really," Dr. McKenzie admitted, "though I'd heard that he was active in foreign missions for many years."
"That's correct, but it's only part of the story," Ana told him, "you see, Lancaster was a specialist of sorts?"
"Actually, he was assigned by the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, as exorcist-at-large. His special ministry was The Holy Rite for the Exorcism of Unclean Spirits and the Return to Grace of the Soul. It took him all over the world." She paused at the look of shock and disbelief on her colleague's face. "I know, I know, it seems outlandish in this day and age. I thought so too when Lancaster first told me, but in his foreign work, he ran across many cases in which modern psychology was regarded as magic, and demonic possession was a fact of life. In those cases, treatment was most effective when offered in a context that was acceptable to the patients he was treating."
"You know, unbelievable as that sounds it makes a kind of sense. Barring somatic causes, the mind is really what ultimately controls both the disease and the cure."
"Exactly," Dr. Penkowski agreed. "I know that Lancaster had diagnosed his patient as MPD/DID. Were you aware that he was treating her as a case of demonic possession?"
"I was aware that the patient's psychotic constructs included alter egos that had been produced through dissociation in response to a delusional encounter with a 'non-corporeal entity'."
"And did you at any time witness inexplicable behavior or manifestations associated with the patient's delusional architecture?"
Dr. McKenzie was about to answer no, but then he stopped and thought further. "Would such manifestations include three guards beaten to death without an assailant?" He was recalling the guard's report to the administrator when Raymond had been killed. It hadn't been possible for anyone to be present to assault him.
"It could, if they were driven to self-murder," Ana proposed, "but I was thinking more of poltergeist activity, disembodied voices, etc., etc."
Again he was about to answer no, when he remembered the voice taunting Dr. Walsh on rounds the first day after her return from vacation. Slowly he nodded his head yes.
"Those of us on rounds the first day Dr. Walsh came back from vacation heard a menacing voice coming from room 13. It appeared to have been directed at her, and she was disturbed by it. Father Merrik asked to speak with her about the incident."
Anastasia sighed. She was hearing another report of the same incident that Lancaster had spoken of that day when he'd come for a visit. It had upset him and what he'd said had upset her. She'd warned him about the danger Kerry could be facing and why. He'd known the dangers better than she had. It seemed that on that same night, Father Merrik had tried to treat his patient, using an exorcism in hopes of forestalling the danger to Kerry. Ana wondered if the concerns she'd expressed had sent her mentor to his death.
"I've read the summary of the incident in the report," Anastasia said, "and I suspect Father Merrik tried and failed to treat his patient by exorcising the presence she'd felt had invaded her. That makes sense to me since he was found in his robes. What you may not know is that Dr. Walsh had a history of MPD/DID. He felt that it made her particularly susceptible to the patent's psychological assaults."
She saw the look of shock on Dr. McKenzie's face. No, obviously he hadn't known. Kerry probably hadn't even shared the details of her manufactured psychohistory with him, let alone the suppressed memories of her true psychobiography.
"I treated her years ago," Ana told him, receiving another look of amazement, "and I had met with Father Merrik earlier on the day he died. He'd agreed to try to keep Dr. Walsh away from his patient. Why she was present there at his death was a complete surprise to me. I can't believe that he would have brought her up to that room."
"We have no way of knowing one way or the other, but if she was under assault by the patient's alter and had a history of dissociation, then I would agree that therapeutically, her presence would be contraindicated. Unfortunately questioning isn't?."
"Something must have happened that night, Dr. McKenzie," Anastasia concluded, "and we may never discover what that was." She let a sigh of resignation escape her. There was only one more thing she wanted to do at the hospital though she didn't believe it would give her any answers. It was merely for sentimental reasons; a search for some kind of closure. She found that the whole affair had left her feeling old and tired. "Would it be possible to see her, Dr. McKenzie?"
In the past, the Psychiatric Chief would have been inclined to refuse. There would be no point. But he'd come to the belief that clinical expedience should be secondary to the emotional health of those associated with the patient. Of course the patient's welfare took precedence, but in this case it certainly couldn't do any harm.
"Certainly, Dr. Penkowski," he said, "she's in room 13. I'll be glad to accompany you."
She nodded her appreciation of his gesture, reclaimed her crutches and got to her feet. Though she remembered the way, it would be comforting to have someone with her.
At the gate a guard keyed open the lock and rolled back the door. Drs. McKenzie and Penkowski made their way down the quiet hall of the R Wing and the guard unlocked the door of room 13.
Anastasia looked into the room and saw where her mentor had died.
"We keep them together, because though they've been catatonic all these months, for some reason they become highly agitated when separated. In fact when left together, we find that they invariably link hands, and so we've moved the beds together. Physical contact has a marked pacifying effect on both of them."
Indeed Kerry's right hand was clasped in Angela's left and their fingers had intertwined. Dr. Penkowski noted the slightest upcurling of both women's lips, as if some spiritual contentment had lent them each the hint of a smile. As Ana continued to stand looking down at her one-time patient, the child she'd helped and taken under her wing, she noted that a kind of glow or radiance enveloped both figures. It was subtle thing, akin to the aura surrounding a woman content in her pregnancy.
Anastasia had never seen Angela before, but Kerry she knew like a daughter. Her frozen expression and her attitude of comfortable repose gave Ana a distinct impression of happiness. Somewhere inside, her little girl had found peace and contentment, but it was not of this world. Somehow Ana couldn't feel wholly sad as she regarded them there together. At least neither appeared to be tortured by the presence of an indwelling spirit.
"They look happy," she whispered. "Do they always look that way?"
Dr. McKenzie confirmed her impression with a nod. Into whatever psycholandscape they had withdrawn, they had withdrawn there together. "Yes," he said, "they appear happy together, always. They were found this way the day Father Merrik died."
For some time he remained silent, looking down at the two women lost in their shared internal world.
"I hope they're happy," he finally said, "and somehow, I don't think their status will change. Their condition is in stasis and the prognosis doesn't favor a remission in either case. They'll be safe here, and they'll be kept together."
Dr. Penkowski nodded. She didn't think their condition would change either. Her little girl and the stranger beside her looked as if they'd each found a persona and a place too compelling to every leave.
"Thank you," she said softly.
They turned to go, but Anastasia looked back one last time.
"Be at peace, little girl," she whispered.
In the early years of the world Enoch had walked with God and was no more. It has been written that none shall confront the face of the Lord and live as other men, for the countenance of the Creator and the radiance of heaven are not for mortal flesh and blood. And having beheld the majesty of the Lord, their bodies, the vessels of the fallen angels, were struck down as if in a deep sleep, but their souls rejoiced in happiness all the days of the world.
Phantom Bard, Brooklyn, N.Y.
September 20 to October 21, 2004