Monday, October 8, 2012

Part I: Paranoia

Synopsis: A patient comes to Dr. Redd with an uncommon mental state known as Sleep Paralysis. Dr. Redd works with Matt on confronting the issues at the heart of the matter.


“Excuse me, I’m looking for Dr. John Redd. I’m Matt Black.”

The receptionist pressed the intercom and said in her grandmotherly voice, “Dr. Redd, there’s a Mr. Black here to see you. No appointment scheduled.”

“I’ll be there.”

The woman motioned toward the chairs in the waiting room. The young man turned and walked toward the nearest chair, wringing his hands in nervous anticipation. His blonde hair was disheveled and dirty from days without proper care. His eyes had large, black bags under them from lack of sleep and numerous treatments, and his bottom lip was cracked and a little too purple from constant nervous biting. He was dressed in blue jeans and a plain, wrinkled, gray shirt. He sat coiled up on the chair, like a rattlesnake with a drug addiction.

John entered and stopped in the door, scanning the empty waiting room with a thoughtful, proud air. His green eyes settled on Matt, and the lips within the confines of his small, gray, goatee tightened slightly. He walked over to the young man, whose gaze was fixed on the acclaimed Mental Technician.

“What can I do for you?” John said calmly.

“Sir, I’ve seen many psychologists and therapists, but no one has been able to discover what is wrong with me,” the man’s quivering lips said between pleading eyes.

“Well,” John replied with a slight chuckle, “I'm not technically a psychologist. What’s tormenting you?”

“That’s the problem,” the young man said, “I don’t really know what’s bothering me. My dreams are haunted by Something, and when I wake up, I can’t remember what I dreamed about--but I’m agitated from it all day.”

John just looked at him, saying nothing with his eyes or mouth.

“Can you help me?” Matt asked pitifully.

John looked at him with a long, discerning look. He had never seen a patient quite like this before: one who could not even diagnose his own torment, let alone the cause of his torment. He briefly wondered if the man even had a mental problem, even though the symptoms glared at him like an evil stepmother from a fairy tale. There was only one way to know.

“Follow me,” John replied.

The two walked down a long corridor with white walls and fluorescent lights, with a light blue wooden door at the end. The buzzing of the lights and the glare from the walls made the journey a living hell for Matt, whose nerves were already tottering. His agitation was clear as he looked up into the face of the tall man that walked beside him. To Matt’s surprise, John’s eyes were gently closed.

“What are you doing?” Matt asked in surprise.

“Counting steps.”

“What does that do?”

“It helps me remember this hallway better.”

“Why would you want to remember this hallway?”

“You’ll see,” was his short, calm reply.

“They say that you’re the best psychologist that ever lived,” Matt remarked awkwardly, trying desperately to calm himself in that long, blaring hallway. “They say you never fail.”


They approached the light blue door, and John reached into his left suit jacket pocket, his eyes still closed, and pulled out a set of keys. On the keyring were ten brass keys, all the same length, with no distinguishing features. Next to the brass keys there was a red key, smaller than the others. John held the keys in his hands, feeling them gently and meaningfully with his fingers. Matt watched in mild skepticism, wondering which of the two of them was mentally ill. Next to this man, he suddenly felt normal--or, at least, understandable by the public at large. But his thoughts were cut short, when John suddenly selected the fourth key from the red key, and placed it in the lock. Twist, click, creak, and the door was open.

“Welcome to my laboratory,” John said, opening his eyes, and inviting his guest in with a wave of his arm. Matt entered, and found himself in a dark blue room which was strikingly bare. In the corner there was a wall-mounted lamp, the only light in the room, next to a small Christmas tree, decorated with tinsel and glass balls, but no lights. There were no windows and no other doors, and there was nothing on the walls save a picture of a lovely woman in a dark purple dress with dark brown hair, pale skin, a small red smile, and an overpowering gaze. In the center of the room, there were two brown reclining chairs facing each other, with a small, white wooden table in between. And on the table, there was a black box, no bigger than a standard briefcase.

“This is a laboratory?” Matt asked, obviously disappointed.

“For my mind, yes,” John replied. “Have a seat.”

Matt took the closest chair, and opened the recliner. As John took his seat, he leaned forward, with his elbows resting on his knees, and stared at Matt.

“For the next three hours, you and I will be embarking on a journey to discover what is wrong with your mind,” he said calmly. “But before we do, I need to know one thing: are you playing a game with me, or do you really need the assistance of a mental technician?”

“A mental technician?” Matt asked, completely confused.

“Yes, that’s what I do,” John replied. “I don’t bring up memories or feelings from your subconscious, like the phonies you’ve already seen: I fix how your mind works. I return it to a proper state of mind. So what I need to know,” he said calmly, as he blinked, “is whether you are really sick, or whether you are pulling my leg. Because if you are pretending,” he added as he sat back in his chair, “this journey could be very painful for you, emotionally and psychologically.”

“This is real, sir,” Matt said, his face now completely white.

“Then relax,” John said, standing up, and placing his hands on the black box. “Are you familiar with hypnosis?” As Matt nodded, John continued, “Because I don’t use it. I don’t believe in drugs, sedatives, or tricks because it creates a false sleep; the mind is not working properly. I need the mind intact and in its proper working state in order to repair it. So, please, sit back and relax,” he said, standing up and walking over to the wall light, “this will not take long.”

“Do we have to turn out the lights?” Matt asked in a frantic voice.

“No,” John replied, “we can leave it on, if it will keep you calm.”

“And does that picture need to stay on the wall?” Matt asked, as he returned the intense gaze of the woman in the picture.

“Yes, the picture must stay. But you need not face that wall.”

Matt rotated his chair as John dimmed the light, leaving just enough light to make out objects, but not enough to discern color or texture. The entire room seemed to blur together as John walked over to the black box. Matt could hear the jingle of the key set, and saw John place a small key in the box. Twist, click, creak, and the box was open.

From the box came the sound of soft, soothing music, like a music box activated by the raising of its lid. Matt wondered what was in the box, but he could not see anything due to the low light and his slowly lowering eyelids. His thoughts began to drift as John took his seat, saying calmly, “Dream.”

* * *

Matt found himself in the white hallway with fluorescent lights which they had walked through just minutes before, but there was no wooden door. In fact, there was no door--nothing existed, save the glaring walls and the buzzing lights. The buzz was louder and the lights were brighter, placing all of Matt‘s nerves on edge in panicked agitation.

“Good morning, Mr. Black,” came a deep voice behind him.

Matt turned, startled, to see John standing behind him in a Kevlar vest, heavy boots, dark cargo pants, black gloves, and a utility belt with magazines, pouches, and a pistol at his left side. It was only then that Matt noticed the sling and pistol pouch over John’s left breast, holding yet another firearm. John still looked at him with the same calm, quiet look.

“What are you doing?” Matt asked in bewilderment.

“What color is my shirt?”


“What color is my shirt?” John asked again. Matt hadn’t even thought about the color of John’s shirt up until that point. The rest of the gear had distracted him from noticing it. He thought that he had caught a glimpse of it when he first turned around, but now, as he looked, John’s large arms appeared to be bare.

“You don’t have one,” Matt said.

“Do I not? I remember wearing one--”

“I don’t care,” Matt said, bordering on screaming, “I can’t concentrate in this environment, and I don’t remember you having a shirt on, and I don’t remember it’s color, and you’re just playing with my mind,” he said, bitter and obstinate to the technician’s questions.

“Be still,” John replied, still calm. “Calm down--”

“I won’t calm down!” Matt shouted, running toward John, grabbing him by the arm holes of his vest, “And I won’t answer your questions!”

“Calm yourself,” John replied, as Matt started pushing him toward the wall.

“No! And you can shoot me for all I care!”

Matt pushed him up against the wall, but to his great surprise, John went through the wall as if it was made of gelatin. Matt stepped back in shock.

“Did you think the wall was solid?” John asked, still hidden from view by the opaque white wall.

Matt stared stupidly, confused and agitated. He said nothing.

“Of course you didn’t,” John’s voice continued, “because you weren’t concentrating on the hallway. I know this hallway very well--its consistency, its solidity, its feel--not just its appearance. As we walked through the hallway a few minutes ago, you didn’t concentrate on the door until you were right in front of it. You didn’t notice anything about the walls, only the agitation that they gave you from light reflecting from the buzzing lights. Now concentrate,” John said, stepping back through the wall, “what color is my shirt?”

As Matt looked at him intently, he began to notice a sleeve on John’s left arm. It didn’t surprise him: it could have been there all along--perhaps rolled up at one point. But it was definitely there. It was a dark blue.

“This image--this room--is new in your memory, Matt,” John said, still calm, “which is why it is the first thing that comes to mind. As we journey farther back into your memory, I will need you to focus when I order you. If you do not concentrate, I cannot see what we are working with, and I cannot repair it.”

Matt nodded in agreement, and sat down on the floor, exhausted and ashamed of his outburst. But as he sat down, the white corridor had vanished, and he found himself seated on a patch of grass, with a sunset of orange, purple, and red flames in the background. At the bottom of the hill was a small forest of evergreen trees, and behind him was a large mountain, robed in purple in the fading light.

“Where are we now?” Matt asked, as he turned to John, who still stood next to him.

“We’re still in your mind, Matt,” John said. “Your mind was agitated when we changed settings, sending us closer to the source. I chose the hallway because I knew that it would agitate you. I could have taken you to the room through another way, if I thought it better. But from hereon out, you're navigating our journey. Where we go will depend entirely on your state of mind. So tell me,” John said, kneeling down next to Matt, “where shall we go next?”

Matt looked at the sunset, then at the mountain. The mountain sent a shudder down his back, with its lofty peak, its imposing figure, and its fading light.

“If you fear the mountain,” John said, noting his shudder, “we should investigate it.”

Matt got up with difficulty, beginning to wonder what he would find on the mountain, if it was in fact the home of his fears. He walked beside John, who walked as he had in that hallway, only this time his eyes were open, and scanning the surrounding area like a wary deer. As they reached the base of the mountain, Matt turned to the technician and asked, “If my fear is up there, can it hurt me?”

“It’s been tearing you apart,” John replied calmly, “and I cannot say how strong, cunning, or large it is, because you haven’t told me anything about it. I need you to tell me what you see.”

And with that, they trekked up the mountain along the dirt road that wound around the mountainside. Matt was at his wit’s end, wondering if he should have drafted his will before visiting John’s office that morning. John was still calm, though very alert. As they turned a bend in the road, they found themselves at a circular landing on the side of the mountain, with four white, ancient pillars situated around the clearing, as if to keep watch over the hallowed ground. John softly drew the pistol at his left hip, and kept it at his side as he scanned the landing.

Matt moved to the center of the landing, and from above he heard a blood-curling screech. As he looked up in fright, a large Red Hawk came into sight, darting toward him and swooping down the mountain slope at full speed. As Matt fell to his knees to avoid the bird, the hawk released another piercing screech and then disappeared. As he slowly rose, Matt heard the sound of beating hooves coming from the next bend in the road, and a black horse came into view, flaring and flagging as if from a long journey. On its back there was a woman wearing a purple dress riding side-saddle, who looked at Matt with a piercing gaze. Her blond, blowing hair and light skin in the fading light made her face look violent and quaking, like a coming storm. She dismounted the horse, and started to walk toward the two men.

“Matt,” she said, with a soft, almost whining voice, “Why didn’t you come back for me?”

“Melanie,” he said softly, “I didn’t mean to--”

“You just left me there,” she said, staring deep into his quaking eyes. “You didn’t even give me a second thought. You just ran away.”

“No,” Matt replied quickly, “I’ve thought about you every day--”

“Because I haunt your dreams, Matt,” she said, her soft voice suddenly becoming angry and defensive, “and I’ll keep torturing you, Matt, until you curse the day you met me.”

And with a shriek, the girl before his eyes quickly changed. Her skin became a pale green, leathery and cracked, and her long, soft arms grew grotesquely thin, with claw-like fingers spread wide like a lion preparing to grab its prey. Her mouth was filled with fangs that drooled danger, and her eyes blared red in the coming dusk.

“Shoot her!” Matt called to John, crawling on his back to escape the monster before him.

“Concentrate!” John replied, his voice earnest and harsh, no longer calm. “Concentrate: is this her, or is this a construction of your mind? Is this the real Melanie, or is this the result of your bitterness and fear? Concentrate: think of her consistency, her solidity, her feel, not just her appearance. Shape her hopes, her aspirations, her dreams, her joys, her emotions--everything. Concentrate, Matt.”

Matt closed his eyes, expecting the monster to grab him by the throat at any moment. It never came. He concentrated on the days they had spent together: how she took his order at the diner, then the first time he asked her out, then the shopping trip at the outdoor mall that landed them under an arch to avoid the rain. Then their senior prom, a few months ago, where he got the call that his mother was hit by a drunk adolescent driver, and was in the ICU. He had left quickly--left without Melanie--and had never seen her since. Behind his closed eyelids he started to weep, wishing that he had told her why he left. And when he opened his eyes, he looked around, and saw a very different woman standing above him.

“Good morning, Mr. Black,” the receptionist said in a cheery, grandmotherly voice as she placed a tray on his endtable. Matt found himself in a queen-sized bed in what looked like a hospital room. As he rubbed his eyes, the elderly figure added, “Oh, you have a visitor.”

And as she stepped out, a girl his age with blond hair and thin, soft arms slowly entered.

“I heard you were here,” she said.

“I’m alright, Melanie,” he replied, “I have some explaining to do.”

The receptionist closed the door, and the rest of the conversation was lost.

“How is he this morning?” John asked her.

“He seems to be doing quite well; that crazed look is gone from his eye.”

“I suspect it is,” John replied. “No charge, I think: this one’s on the house.”

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